LatinaLista — According to a new report released today by The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), one out of 4 incarcerated Latino youth is held in an adult jail facility.
The report, America’s Invisible Children: Latino Youth and the Failure of Justice discovered several key facts that underscore the institutionalized prejudices that exist in our legal system towards Latino youth and other youth of color.
These prejudices have resulted in a domino effect of discrepancies in treatment among youth inmates resulting in Latino youth being overrepresented in the judicial system, receiving harsher treatment, being dealt a sentence that is more punitive than their white counterparts for the same offense and more likely to be placed in adult prisons.
Yet, one of the more surprising, and disappointing, finds of the report, is that “a higher proportion of white youth prosecuted in the adult system are released pretrial (60%) than any other racial or ethnic categories. While most (54%) of Latino youth prosecuted in the adult system were detained pretrial; of the Latino youth detained pretrial, 72% were held in adult jails.”
The obvious question from such a finding is: What makes white youth seem more trustworthy to be released pretrial than Latino youth?
Is it who their parents are? The school they went to? The section of town they live in?
Or is it the color of their skin?
The report’s authors admit that “there is no simple answer to the question of why Latino youth are being treated so unfairly.” However, the overriding message from this report is that the current justice system is not just committing a disservice to Latino youth but is trapping them in a failed system with little recourse for rehabilitation or rejoining society where they can make a decent living and improve their lives.
In a system that is all too ready to commit juveniles into an adult facility, Latino youth are at an even greater disadvantage because they are subjected to rape and assault in those adult prison facilities.
Fortunately, this gross disparity has not gone unnoticed.
Florida State University Clinical Law professor Paolo Annino told Latina Lista readers in March of he and his students drafting legislation titled the Second Chance Act for Children in Prison of 2009 .
Professor Annino wrote:
Florida takes the lead in placing the youngest children in the adult prison system. The most recent Florida data shows, there is 1 inmate who was 10, 4 inmates who were 11, 5 inmates who were 12, and 31 inmates who were 13 years old at the time of their offense.
These children all received adult prison sentences of more than 10 years. Of the four inmates who were 11 at the time of their offense, three are Hispanic.
In total, there are 448 inmates who received adult prison sentences of 10 years or more and who were 15-years-old or younger at the time of their offense. Approximately 10 percent of these child inmates who received long adult prison sentences are Hispanic.
Florida State University College of Law, Children in Prison Project has been researching the issue of children in Florida prisons for over 11 years and based on this research, FSU law students have created the Second Chance for Children in Prison Act of 2009 (House Bill 757 and Senate Bill 1430)â€¦
This Act provides these 448 adolescent offenders adjudicated as adults in Florida the opportunity of parole. Only those adolescent offenders who have worked to get their lives back on track while in prison and who have already served at least 8 years of their prison sentence are eligible for parole under this Act.
When he wrote this piece, Professor Annino had high hopes that the bill would pass. The Senate version of the bill passed but it was blocked in the Criminal & Civil Justice Policy Council by the committee chair â€” effectively killing the bill.
â€œAfter interviewing each committee member, I believe the votes were there to pass the bill,â€ said Professor Paolo Annino. “We will re-file in December 2009 for the spring legislative session in 2010.”
A bill, such as proposed by Professor Annino, would go a long way in pulling Latino youth out of a judicial system that has made it clear that it has no desire to review Latino juvenile cases or rehabilitate Latino youth.
One Latino, who experienced the prejudice and discrimination of a judicial system that has effectively locked him up and thrown away the key, is Efren Paredes Jr.
Efren was a 15-year-old high school honor student in Michigan who was convicted in 1989 for murder and armed robbery â€” charges that he has steadfastly and consistently denied and to which others have plead guilty.
His sentence â€” three consecutive life sentences.
After the trial, it came to light that several improprieties were committed by the prosecutor. Yet, after all this time, 20 years, the injustice that was committed against Efren has yet to be addressed in a serious manner that acknowledges that this was a boy who had no criminal record when he was arrested, was a student athlete and honor student.
His arrest was based on the statements of people with a criminal history.
Since he’s been in jail, Efren has accomplished much. He’s earned his GED, attended college, received degrees and certifications, delivers presentations at national conferences via telephone. Lord knows what he would have become had he not been implicated in this crime.
To be 15 and handed three consecutive life sentences does not make sense for Efren or any other young person put in jail. Though the evidence overwhelmingly points to the innocence of Efren Paredes Jr, for those kids who do commit crimes and are handed life sentences, only to show through what they accomplish in prison, that their lapse in youthful judgement was but for a moment in time, they certainly don’t deserve to have the key thrown away.
As with Professor Annino’s bill, these kids do deserve a second chance.
Over the years, a small army of supporters have tried their best to bring Efren’s case before the court of public opinion. They want the governor of Michigan to commute his sentence.
The big question is why hasn’t she done so? (Editor’s note, Governor’s gender was wrong and corrected.)
So, in the meantime, Efren’s supporters carry on his 20-year battle for justice. They have created an online petition, a Facebook page, MySpace, a blog.
They have also made available powerpoint presentation about Efren’s case which underscore why his continued imprisonment defies explanation and common sense.
It is time the national Latino community took up the cause of Efren Paredes Jr.
Where is MALDEF? Where is NCLR? Where is LULAC?
Reports are fine to alert us all to what has been transpiring but we’ve reached a point in our evolution as a community where reports are meaningless, unless we identify those who suffer from the very injustices outlined in these reports, and put our collective voices towards correcting those injustices.
The time to act is long overdue.