Inconsistent or incomplete data collection and reporting on the impact of the justice system on Americans of Latino origin seriously hampers policymaking, according to an Urban Institute report released today.
“Data matter because they affect policy,” said the report, which was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, noting that tracking of police shootings since the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Mo drove efforts to track the interactions of law enforcement with people of color across the U.S. and “sparked a national conversation about community-police relations.”
But “no one knows exactly how many Latinos are arrested each year, or how many are in prison, on probation, or on parole,” the report said, observing that “excluding justice-system-involved Latinos from data excludes them from policy.”
The researchers’ survey of state criminal justice data showed that 30 states reported race in their ethnic origins, but only 15 states reported ethnicity. Pointing out that the Latino population is projected to rise to over 28 percent of the US population by 2060, the authors said that an accurate picture of the system’s racial disparities is badly needed for such a significant group of Americans.
The report, entitled “The Alarming Lack of Data on Latinos in the Criminal Justice System,” also pointed out that the data gap affects all aspects of the 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,” said the report.
Recommendations included a requirement that states should, at a minimum, follow current Census Bureau standards and collect race and ethnicity data separately before combining them, which in turn would allow them to list “more descriptive” categories such as “non-Hispanic white” and “Hispanic black.”
And the report called for such data to be collected and reported at least once every two years, to track in real time the impact of the justice system on “one of the nation’s fastest-growing demographic groups.”
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