Arrested While Latino

Arturo Gatti smiles at a July 19, 2006 press conference in N.J., before a WBC welterweight championship fight. Gatti was strangled to death in his sleep July 11, 2009, according to Brazilian police, who say blood was found on his wife's purse strap. His wife had trouble explaining the more than 10 hours she spent in their hotel room before realizing her husband was dead.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Treatment of Latino youth in the U.S. juvenile justice system is harsher than for non-Hispanic white juveniles - and it's getting worse, according to a report commissioned by several groups that sponsor a campaign to end such inequities.

The report said disproportionate numbers of Latino youth are detained before trial in most states.

It also said the percentage of Latino youth in the nation's detention centers rose by 84 percent between 1983 and 1991, compared with an 8 percent increase for non-Hispanic white youth over the same period and a 46 percent increase for youth overall.

"They are arrested more often, stopped more often, detained more often, incarcerated more often and for longer periods of time," said Nancy Walker, co-author of the report and associate director of the Institute for Children, Youth and Families at Michigan State University.

Even when Latino kids are charged with the same offense as their white counterparts, they're punished more severely, the report found. Latino youth who've never been detained are 13 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses than non-Hispanic white youth - and they'll spend more than twice as much time in jail, the report said.

The report's other co-author, Francisco Villarruel, blames recent anti-gang statutes for the apparent crackdown on Latino youth. He said he is hearing more stories from Latino youth picked up by the police for simply standing on a street corner.

"It's bad, but chances are it's worse," said Villarruel, associate professor of family and child ecology at Michigan State University. "This is only what we can see."

The data are inadequate because state and county governments don't have a single category for "Hispanic" or "Latino," he said.

A child with a Puerto Rican father and black mother, for example, would be "African American" in California, "Hispanic" in Michigan and "biracial" in Ohio. In Arizona, children can define their own race or ethnicity.

The report also found:

  • In Los Angeles County in 1998, Latino youth were 1.9 times as likely as non-Hispanic white youth to be arrested for violent offenses.
  • In 36 states in 1993, Latino juveniles 10 and older charged with property offenses were incarcerated an average of 45 days longer than white youth.
  • In 21 states in 2000, Latino youth were two to 17 times more likely to be incarcerated with adults as white youth.

    The study was commissioned by Building Blocks for Youth, a campaign by groups - such as the Youth Law Center and the Juvenile Law Center - that seeks to end the justice system's disparate treatment of minority youth.

    By Leslie Miller