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The Alarming Lack of Data on Latinos in the Criminal Justice System

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

A survey of state criminal justice data showed that 40 states reported race (e.g., "white," "black," "other") in their arrest records, but only 15 states reported ethnicity. Although Latinos are just one of many ethnic groups in the United States, the population is projected to be 28.6 percent Latino by 2060, and Latinos are the group most affected when states ignore ethnicity.

Evidence shows that our criminal justice system has significant racial disparities. But without comprehensive data, policymakers, community members, and advocates cannot know how mass incarceration affects Latinos specifically and ethnic disparities cannot be accurately tracked.

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” likely label most of their Latino prison population “white,” artificially inflating the number of “white” people in prison and masking the white/black disparity in the criminal justice system.

Few states include Latinos in most criminal justice data
We tracked all race and ethnicity information we could find through publicly and readily accessible online sources 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. Although it is possible that more states collected these data routinely, we 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.

Criminal Justice Data
Number of criminal justice data categories that include Latinos

States collect criminal justice data through several agencies, and these agencies may not coordinate their efforts. To ensure that Latinos are accurately counted across the criminal justice system, states must make sure all relevant agencies-including law enforcement, the department of corrections, and the parole board-collect the same ethnicity data. If states do not collect accurate and complete data across all agencies, it is impossible to assess how the system affects Latinos.


The quality of ethnicity data varies across states and agencies
We also looked at the quality of states’ ethnicity data. There is disagreement within the field on how to collect data on race and ethnicity and whether those should be separate categories. Many Latinos consider their race to be Hispanic or Latin American, as opposed to identifying racially as white or black and ethnically as Latino or Hispanic. When assessing demographic data quality, we followed current federal policy and Census Bureau definitions of race and ethnicity, which allow Latinos to identify both as Hispanic and as a particular race.

State agencies that collected and reported the most thorough race and ethnicity data followed Census Bureau guidelines: they collected race and ethnicity data separately but reported them as combined categories, such as "non-Hispanic white" or "Hispanic black." Some agencies asked about race and ethnicity separately but did not combine them in reporting. With these data, we can determine how many people are reported as "Hispanic" separately from how many are reported as "black" or "white" but not whether "Hispanic" people are also "black" or "white." Other agencies combined race and ethnicity into one category: a person can be counted as "Hispanic" or “white” but not both. Still others did not include a category for Latinos in their publicly available data or did not publish accessible race and ethnicity data at all.

Ethnicity data varies across states
Ethnicity data varies across states

States included Latinos in their prison population data far more than in the other data categories we tracked. Thirty-eight states reported data on Latinos in prison compared with only 20 that reported data on Latinos in the parole population, 18 that reported data on Latinos in the probation population, 15 that reported data on Latinos in arrest records, and just 1 that reported data on Latinos in prison by offense.

Hardly any states reported data on Latinos in combined categories (e.g., "Hispanic white" or "non-Hispanic black"). Only three-New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Vermont-tracked both race and ethnicity and reported them in combination in any data category (prison population in North Carolina and arrests in New Hampshire and Vermont).


States with large Latino populations do not necessarily have better data
Seventy-five percent of Latinos in the United States live in just 10 states. Many of these states have significant gaps in reported ethnicity data despite their large Latino populations. California, Florida, and New Mexico, for example, all reported ethnicity data in fewer categories than the average state.

Data reporting in these states is especially important because states with more Latino residents are likely to have more Latinos in their criminal justice systems. The effects of criminal justice policies on Latinos can go unseen by the public and policymakers in states where agencies do not report ethnicity data.

States with large Latino populations
States with large Latino populations


Establishing a higher standard for data
Data matter because they affect policy. We have seen this across the country as increased tracking of police shootings, fueled in part by the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked a national conversation about community-police relations. Using data to illustrate issues can change the conversation and influence policy and practice. Excluding justice system-involved Latinos from data excludes them from policy.

Data collection and reporting in the criminal justice system is inconsistent and incomplete. We present the following recommendations to improve the quality and utility of race and ethnicity data:
->> States should, at the very least, meet current Census Bureau standards and collect race and ethnicity data separately before combining them. This would result in more descriptive and accurate subcategories, such as "non-Hispanic white" and "Hispanic black."

->> Data should be collected and publicly reported at least once every two years. This would provide more frequent data on Latinos, one of the nation’s fastest-growing demographic groups.

->> Race and ethnicity data should be self-reported, not determined by state employees. Self-identification would prevent people from being boxed into identities they do not claim as their own and is consistent with Census Bureau data collection standards.

If states follow the federal government’s proposed 2020 Census changes and combine race and ethnicity in one question, justice system–involved people must be allowed to check more than one box. And although states should, at a minimum, include a “Hispanic” or “Latino” category, Latinos are not a monolith. Many Latinos identify as mixed race, indigenous, or Afro-Latino. Hispanic or Latino ethnicities can be split further by country of origin (e.g., Mexican or Cuban).

Some states may want to capture ethnicity data but cannot easily do so because of funding issues, time limits, or other constraints. But as the United States becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, states must work to ensure that all people are counted and considered when developing policy.

About the data
We collected the data used in this feature from publicly available state-level sources in all 50 states and Washington, DC. In addition to a scan of state agency websites, we reviewed Google search results for each data category and each state using search terms focused on annual reporting, statistics, race, and ethnicity. From this, we created a database of the most recent and complete data available. Data collection occurred between June and September 2016, and all sources used in this feature were available during that period. The data found using our search protocol may not reflect all data collected or reported by each state, agency, or department.

States are considered to include Latinos in their data reporting when their racial or ethnic demographic reporting includes categories such as "Hispanic" or "Latino." Latinos may be reported as a distinct ethnic or racial group or combined with a racial group (e.g., "Hispanic black" or "non-Hispanic white"). We recognize that "Hispanic" and “Latino” have different meanings. This feature uses "Latino" when referring to people, communities, or populations and “Hispanic” when referring to data because that is the term most states use when reporting data.

We define regularly and recently reported data as data that has been publicly reported at least twice, at least every other year, and at least as recently as 2014.

Please contact agurvis@urban.org and seppler-epstein@urban.org with any questions about this project or the associated data.


Project credits
This project was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, and the authors would like to thank them for their generous support. The authors also extend their appreciation to Juan Cartagena, Jerónimo Saldaña, and Ana Yáñez-Correa for their input on the creation and development of this project. As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues, but it does empower and support its experts in sharing their own evidence-based views and policy recommendations that have been shaped by scholarship.

Research: Sarah Eppler-Epstein, Annie Gurvis and Ryan King
Design and Development: John Wehmann and Vivian Hou
Editorial: Alexandra Tilsley and Daniel Matos


Online ARTICLE LINK : http://apps.urban.org/features/latino-criminal-justice-data/
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