Latinos, concerned about their public safety, prioritize rehabilitation over other criminal justice reforms

01/10/2018 02:32 pm ET

A nascent yet familiar groundswell of demands is resurrecting within Latinx communities as they yearn to be heard on their views of criminal justice reform. A national poll of Latinx experiences and opinions about criminal justice, policing and drug policy systems confirms that the nation’s largest racial / ethnic minority is concerned about America’s ability to provide for its public safety – from both threats emanating among law enforcement and their neighbors.

At the end of 2017 LatinoJustice PRLDEF commissioned a national poll of Latino community members to document their experiences and opinions about the criminal justice system. It retained Latino Decisions to conduct the first poll of its kind within the Latinx community. Many polls do not include Latinos or if they do, are limited regionally or by issue. The findings of this Latinx poll trend towards an affinity with African-Americans– not surprising given the racialized marginalization of both groups in the country and the unique experiences of Afro-Latinos among them.

Latinos are convinced that they will be more subject to unlawful deadly force by police compared to whites, they believe local police treat them in ways similar to how African-Americans are treated, and they disavow the use of racial profiling by law enforcement. Eighty four percent of Latinos believe that racial profiling by the police based on race or ethnicity should not be permitted. In the context of the recent national attention given to the treatment of African-Americans by the police nearly two-thirds of Latinos (64%) believe Latinos experience similar treatment at the hands of police with higher proportions of Mexicans, Afro-Latinos, and Latinos directly stopped, arrested or victimized by crime, believing that’s the case.

Fifty eight percent of Latinos are convinced police use deadly force unjustly against Latinos versus whites. Many more Latinos who are younger (69%), Afro-Latino (70%), or directly involved in the criminal justice system because they were stopped (71%), arrested (68%) or were victims (64%) hold that same belief.

These findings are critically important as the country continues to reexamine the ways law enforcement, prosecutors, the courts and corrections has made America the world leader in mass incarceration and criminal supervision. Mexican-Americans in Kern County, California know this very well as they live in an area with the highest per capita rates of death at the hands of police. Nor would Puerto Ricans in New York City or Salvadorans in Long Island be surprised by these results as they suffered through the indignities of Stop and Frisk in New York and Stop and Rob in Suffolk County.

The poll also demonstrates that Latinos feel less safe after Trump’s election and they perceive whites to be more discriminatory or angry towards them since the presidential election. A majority of Latinos (57%) feel less safe since Trump was elected with two-thirds of Latina women feeling less safe since Trump came aboard. Many more Latinos (72%) feel that since his election, whites have become more discriminatory and angry towards Latinos. Latinos in Texas and Arizona know this only too well.

In Texas Trump’s victory emboldened a state legislature that was already found liable for intentional discrimination against Latinos and blacks in voting to pass the most draconian anti-immigrant, anti-sanctuary law in the country. And in Arizona the push back against anti-Latino laws started with ousting the racist sheriff of Maricopa County and continues today to ensure that Trump’s white supremacist affinity does not stem a growing political clout.

Latinx communities are more evenly divided through the political spectrum and this poll evidences that phenomenon. Nationally, a plurality of Latinos consider themselves moderate – 35%, the ones that lean liberal total 31% while those that lean conservative came in at 27%.

But the significant finding here is that Latinos believe that to solve the problems of public safety and a broken criminal justice system more rehabilitation, drug treatment and mental health programs are needed than increased funding for police or prisons. And incarceration for nonviolent offenses is identified as a major problem in the criminal justice system. Almost three times as many Latinos (58%) would prefer funding for rehabilitation, drug and mental health programs as a way to reduce crime than funding for police departments (20%) and rehabilitation is far more preferable than increased money for prisons (6%), or deportations (12%).

Among the most important problems that require attention in the criminal justice system, Latinos ranked insufficient rehabilitation programs and excessive incarceration of nonviolent offenders as numbers one and two, respectively.

Latinos support reentry of the formerly incarcerated population with overwhelming rates of approval for restoring the vote to persons who committed prior felony offenses after they paid their debt to society. Seventy six percent of Latinos strongly support restoring the vote to people convicted of these crimes, with the highest support, coming from Puerto Ricans (85%), younger Latinos, 18-34 yr. olds (84%), and Latinos previously stopped by police (82%).

Restoring the vote is also supported by Latinos across partisan lines with 70% of Latino Republicans and 83% of Latino Democrats in favor of allowing the formerly incarcerated to participate in elections. In Florida this bodes well for the rights restoration campaign that seeks to end felon disfranchisement by way of public referendum. If the public question is certified in February Latino voters could very well be a key constituency for reform.

Another unique area of reform for Latinos in law enforcement, corrections and parole systems involves the role of race / ethnicity in the accurate counting of Latinos directly impacted by these systems. Too many states still engage in an antiquated black / white binary when it comes to data collection. Nationally, Latinos reject that limited discourse with two-thirds of them thinking it important or very important to accurately count Latinos within the criminal justice system.

Drug policy is another area of reform that concerns Latinos. More Latinos favor legalization of marijuana for personal use (50% to 44%) but even among those that do not favor legalization, imprisonment for personal use ranks lowest among all other criminal justice responses at 16%.

Finally, Latinos are also directly affected by the criminal justice system. Almost a third of all Latinos reported being a victim of crime but 55% of Latinos stopped by police and 64% of Latinos arrested were victims of crime. Latino victims of crime have very strong voter participation rates. 92% of them voted in the 2016 elections, second only to Latino college grads (95%).

In short, Latino populations represent a key constituency in favor of criminal justice, policing and drug policy reform. Their voices need to be heard. Their political will needs to be accounted for.

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