Jose Luis Morin is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. He specializes in criminal justice, civil rights, human rights and race and ethnicity issues.

One in four federal prison inmates is a Latino. Latinos are incarcerated in state and federal prisons 2.6 times greater than whites in the United States. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the prison system.

In 10 states, Latino men are incarcerated at rates between five and nine times greater than whites. In four states, Latino youth under the age of 18 are incarcerated at adult facilities at rates between 7 and 17 times greater than those of white youths. Latinos and African Americans are disproportionately represented in federal and state prisons and receive harsher sentences.

As a result, Latino children are more than three times more likely to have a parent in prison than whites. Those stark statistics, presented by Jose Luis Morin, a professor in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at the John Jay College, might lead one to believe that Latinos are inclined to crime. But, the facts, Morin said, show just the opposite.

"Latinos are actually less likely to be involved in violent crime than any other racial or ethnic group," Morin said. "The overwhelming majority of incarcerated Latinos and Latinas are convicted for relatively minor non-violent offenses and/or are first time offenders." When it comes to Latinos and crime, Morin said, myths and contradictions abound, the product of a history of discrimination and the failure of the media to correct and clarify the record.

"The reality is that when we're talking about crime in the United States, the typical criminals, unlike what people popularly believe…in the United States based on arrest records are really white people, not African Americans, not Latinos." Morin said the war on drugs "is in fact the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population of Latinos in prisons around the United States. This war on drugs is almost entirely being fought in Latino and African American communities," despite the fact that drug use in no more prevalent or in some cases, lower than among whites, according to studies.

Morin outlined a series of laws and public policies that negatively impact Latinos and African American in the United States:


1. Felony disenfranchisement laws: Enacted after the Civil War, the laws take away the right of convicted felons to vote. A study of 10 states by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, concluded that a half million Latino citizens cannot vote as a result. The study concluded, "Latinos have a disproportionately higher rate of disenfranchisement compared to their presence in the voting population," Morin said.

2. Prisoner gerrymandering: Imprisoned Latino and African Americans are being counted for Census and political purposes in the counties where they are serving time rather than the counties where their homes are located. In New York, prisoners often are sent upstate. "They are phantom constituents because those largely white counties are counting them as part of their constituents for purposes of political apportionment, political power and resource apportionment," Morin said. But those imprisoned constituents can't vote. Moreover, the prisoners are needed to sustain jobs. "It creates an incentive for the continuation of high levels of African Americans and Latinos going through this prison system," Morin said.
3. Racial profiling: Morin said racial profiling is a problem across the country but he pointed to statistics turned over by the New York Police Department as the result of a lawsuit to show how blatant the profiling can be. From 2005 to 2008, 80 percent of the people stopped and interrogated were African American and Latinos. In 2009, it was even more lopsided – 87 percent of the over half a million people stopped in New York were Latino or African American. "We're talking about some really astounding data around how African Americans and Latinos are being systematically stopped and frisked."

4. The Mexican exception: A 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Terry v. Ohio, allows Mexicans in this country legally to be subject to detention and interrogation at checkpoints near the border to a greater extent than non-Mexican appearing motorists. Among the myths the media have not only failed to dispel but have promulgated, Morin said were:

5. Claims that Latino communities' high drug use is why police focus there. "When we look at the national data, whites using drugs as much and in some instances some data show even more in some types of drugs than African American and Latino communities," Morin said.
6. Media-fueled perceptions that Latino immigrants are frequently involved in crime. "Nothing could be further from the truth…There's a lot of data on this now…and Latino immigrants are no more prone to crime than other groups. In fact, the data is showing just the opposite. They're actually less prone," Morin said.
7. Latinos don't want to assimilate. "Recent studies are saying that Latino immigrants are actually…integrating themselves into the U.S. society rather consistently with other previous immigrants." He said many become homeowners in 10 to 18 years.

8. Latinos don't want to learn English. "I think it's really important for us to be sure we understand that the large majority of immigrants are learning English and learning it well. English is not threatened."

9. Latinos and African Americans are associated with a fear of youth crime. Despite dropping national crime rate, "polls are showing that there is an increase in fear of youth crime and there's an upsurge in media coverage about crime which is spurring those fears. Whites are actually three times more likely to be victimized by whites than minorities," Morin said.

10. Gangs are mainly a Latino and African American issue. Morin said a Justice Policy Institute report in 2007 found, "the public face of the gang problem has been black and Latino but whites actually make up the largest group of adolescent gang members." "So what's to be done? Moving forward how do we address these problems and how do implement effective strategies," Morin said. He said among strategies that various groups have put forth:

11. Challenge prevailing stereotypes and myths about Latinos and crime. "The kinds of things that were done to organize against Lou Dobbs, who was representing Latino immigrants as criminals, as people who were bringing leprosy into the country, those are the kinds of things that we're going to have to be doing much more of."

12. Disseminate accurate information about Latinos and crime. He said the National Council of La Raza and the Campaign for Youth have done good work in this arena.

13. Challenge the policies and practices that perpetuate disparities in the criminal justice system. "The same way that lawsuits have been brought against the NYPD to disclose what it is that they're doing with stops and frisks, we need to be engaged in that way with legal challenges."


14. Stop the process of sending youth to adult jails and prisons. He said studies show the detrimental impact on youth, particularly Latinos and African Americans, "is astounding."

15. Ensure Latinos receive effective legal counsel and culturally competent services. "One of the things that is just remarkable in this country is that you can be removed from the jury for being able to speak Spanish…It doesn't make sense."