New Digital Feature Seeks to Measure Accuracy of Criminal Justice Data on Latinos

Majority of States Lack Accurate Criminal Justice Data on Ethnicity

“No one knows exactly how many Latinos are arrested each year or how many are in prison, on probation, or on parole.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15th, 2016

Christiaan Perez, LatinoJustice,, 212-739-7581
Jeronimo Saldaña, Drug Policy Alliance,, 526-644-8413

In an attempt to determine the amount of missing data that would be needed to help policymakers and advocates understand Latinos’ relationship to criminal justice, the Urban Institute has launched a new digital feature that seeks to address the lack of data available on Latinos in the criminal justice system.

The interactive feature, “The Alarming Lack of Data on Latinos in the Criminal Justice System,” will help policymakers, advocates, and others understand the importance of filling in the Latino data gap.

The comprehensive feature will be a boon to researchers and others who recognize that filling the Latino data gap is a key prerequisite to many criminal justice reforms.

“Leaving Latinos out when documenting the consequences of the American criminal justice system means our data tells an incomplete story,” said Ryan King, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. “As a result of that missing, inaccurate, or insufficient data, their voices are absent from the conversation when policy reforms are developed.”

A state’s failure to collect and report ethnicity data affects not only Latinos but the entire criminal justice system. States that only count people as “black" or “white” often label most of their Latino prison population as “white,” artificially inflating the number of “white” people in prison and masking the white-black disparity in the criminal justice system.

“There is another reason why Latino/as, as the country’s largest racial and ethnic minority, need to be counted accurately in all phases of the criminal justice system,” says Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Simply put, law enforcement and corrections institutions are very likely understating the true disparities between black and white encounters with the criminal justice system when they erroneously count Latinos as white and fail to disaggregate the data. A black and white binary truly fails to inform our country of the true impact of our broken criminal justice system.”

While 40 states report race (e.g. white, black, other) in their arrest records, only 15 states report ethnicity. Although Latinos are projected to comprise almost 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2060, Latinos are the group mostly likely to be missed when states ignore ethnicity.

The Urban Institute project tracked all race and ethnicity information accessible online for each state and Washington, DC, across five categories: prison population, prison population by offense, arrests, probation population, and parole population.

Only one state—Alaska—consistently included data on Latinos in regularly and recently released reports on arrests and prison, probation, and parole populations. Idaho, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas regularly report data on Latinos for 4 out of 5 measures. Although it is possible that more states collected these data routinely, the website only considered data that states made publicly accessible. Seventy-five percent of states regularly and recently reported data by ethnicity on at least one of our five measures, but only 39 percent did so for two or more measures.

Some of the most troubling states include Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, South Carolina and Wyoming, which report no data on Latinos for any of the five measures. Hawaii, New Mexico and Ohio do not report data on Latinos “regularly or recently,” meaning publicly available data could not be found to be reported at least twice, at least every other year, and at least as recently as 2014. California only regularly reports recent data on Latinos for one measure, and has only ever reported data for two additional measures.

In New Mexico, where 48% of people identify as Latino/Hispanic, ethnicity data is not systematically collected and reported out,” said Jessica Gelay, New Mexico Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Without ethnicity reporting, rates of racial and ethnic bias in drug laws enforcement are masked and the true extent of racial discrimination and impact of the drug war on the Latino/Hispanic population is unknown.”

To ensure that Latinos are counted across the criminal justice system, states will have to make sure all the relevant agencies – from law enforcement, to the department of corrections, to the parole board – are collecting the same data. If states are not collecting accurate and complete data across the criminal justice system, it is impossible to assess how the system affects Latinos in the United States.

“Reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system is a principal goal of the Public Welfare Foundation,” said Foundation President Mary E. McClymont. “To achieve that goal, and to advance a more just and fair system, having accurate data is absolutely essential.”

This project is funded primarily by the Public Welfare Foundation, who served as advisors to the project along with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Drug Policy Alliance.

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