Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Life Issues > Children > New Latino youth justice report shines spotlight on the case of Efren Paredes Jr.

New Latino youth justice report shines spotlight on the case of Efren Paredes Jr.

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)…
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 — effectively killing the bill.
“After interviewing each committee member, I believe the votes were there to pass the bill,” 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 — charges that he has steadfastly and consistently denied and to which others have plead guilty.
His sentence — 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.

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  • Hissy
    May 21, 2009 at 6:19 am

    The governor isn’t a HE. It sounds to me like this kid got a BETTER FREE education in jail than most people.

  • Favianna Rodriguez
    May 21, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Great article Marisa! Thank you for talking about this case. I learned about Efren’s case 1 year ago and was shocked.

  • Velia Koppenhoefer
    May 21, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I am Efrén’s mother, Velia. Thank you so much for making this very important post Marisa. You are correct, we need to urge MALDEF, LULAC, NCLR and others to get on board with helping Efrén’s case. People can also learn about the campaign to free Efrén at and follow real-time updates about our campaign at We need to demand justice for Efrén and all the other Latina/o youth who are being mistreated by the criminal in-justice system.

  • Marisa Treviño
    May 21, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Thanks Hissy. Correction noted and done.

  • Necalli Ollin
    May 21, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Efrén’s case is a shameful example of how justice is disproportionately meted out against Chicano/Latino youth and other children of color in this country. Thank you for underscoring the need for us to rally around this cause and seek justice for our youth. They are NOT disposable.

  • Evelyn
    May 21, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    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.”
    A perfect example of White Privilege! This report disgusts me. We already know Black youth suffer the same ailment as Latinos, “Being People of Color.”

  • hissy
    May 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    This case is NOT an easy read but well worth your time. This is not the way we should be treating anyone in the USA. This man should get another shot in my opinion.

  • MaryElizabeth
    May 22, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I am going to have to find this link on facebook. Thank-you for the article. I look forward to signing petitions that help Efren and many of the others that are mistreated so in our criminal in-justice system. I’m so sorry to see what you are going through Velia.

  • Karen
    May 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Re: “Where is MALDEF? Where is NCLR? Where is LULAC?”
    We need civil rights leaders, people who are media savvy and able to communicate. I have seen some of the NCLR people on TV, and they sound like idiots.
    This case should have been in the media a long time ago.

  • Horace
    May 24, 2009 at 7:24 am

    “The report’s authors admit that “there is no simple answer to the question of why Latino youth are being treated so unfairly.”
    Cry a river for Jerry Ortiz and try supporting justice for U.S. citizens for a change. Plenty of sympathy for your own cause, but none for the black people in the article below. It would seem that Latinos illegal alien advocates have something to answer for. Why are these black Americans treated so unfairly by Latinos and why are illegal alien advocates trying so hard to keep criminal illegal aliens in the U.S. I suspect that racism has a lot to do with it. Where’s the outrage from the Latino advocacy community?
    Check this out:
    88 arrested, 147 charged in massive operation against Hawaiian Gardens gang
    Slaying of Deputy Jerry Ortiz triggered four-year investigation
    Posted: 05/21/2009 08:02:14 PM PDT
    HAWAIIAN GARDENS – Almost 1,400 law enforcement officials converged on Hawaiian Gardens in a series of pre-dawn raids Thursday as part of the largest federal indictment against a street gang in United States history.
    Varrio Hawaiian Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens’ oldest and most notorious gang, waged a racist campaign to eliminate black people from the community via attempted murders and other crimes, according to the federal racketeering indictments that werei unsealed Thursday.
    A total of five indictments charged 147 members and associates of the gang, and federal, state and local law enforcement officials had arrested 88 people as of Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said.
    Included in that plot was the murder of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz, who was shot in the head in June of 2005 by a VHG member while Ortiz was investigating the attempted murder of a black man in the city, O’Brien said.
    It was the cowardly slaughter of Ortiz – a newlywed and father of two sons – that prompted investigators from the LA County Sheriff’s Department to the FBI to launch the nearly four-year investigation into the gang, which culminated in Thursday’s indictments and a wave of arrests, dubbed “Operation Knockout,” O’Brien said.
    “Operation Knockout has put a serious dent in this violent criminal enterprise,” said Assistant Los Angeles County Sheriff Paul Tanaka.
    Tanaka spoke on behalf of Sheriff Lee Baca and the members of the Sheriff’s Department as well as the family of Ortiz. As Tanaka spoke, members of the Lakewood Sheriff’s Station’s Gang unit, which Ortiz had been assigned to, stood close by.
    Although none of Ortiz’s family was at the media conference, his widow – Chela Ortiz – attended a briefing at the command center early Thursday morning,
    “She was there at the command post and very interested in what was going on,” Fender said. “I think (taking part in the operation) is almost like having some closure on this part of her life.”
    Range of offenses
    The indictments detail attempted murder, kidnapping, firearms, narcotics and other charges related to attacks by the gang, which is predominantly Latino and mainly operates in the little hamlet of Hawaiian Gardens, a city of about 15,000 that measures roughly one square mile.
    “City leaders in Hawaiian Gardens support Operation Knockout,” Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Michael Gomez said. “Honest residents should not have to live in fear of lawless thugs who act like it’s high noon at the OK Corral.”
    O’Brien said the gang is alleged to have roughly 1,000 members or associates who have dominated the city, making life hell for the majority of residents.
    The indictments charge the gang not only operates in the usual criminal acts, including murder, attempted murder, assaults and drug and weapons trafficking, VHG has also waged a campaign of terror specifically against black members of the community.
    “(Varrio Hawaiian Gardens) gang members take pride in their racism and often refer to the VHG Gang as the ‘Hate Gang,”‘ the main indictment states. “VHG gang members have expressed a desire to rid the city of Hawaiian Gardens of all
    African-Americans and have engaged in a systematic effort to achieve that result by perpetrating crimes against African-Americans.”
    Gang experts and investigators testified at length about that subject in the 2007 trial for the killing of Deputy Ortiz, detailing the gang’s long-standing hatred of African-Americans.
    Jose Luis Orozco was convicted of Ortiz’s murder.
    During the sentencing, the judge noted the 29-year-old gang member not only killed the deputy while hiding outside of the lawman’s view behind a door, but Orozco also allegedly tried to kill another man, who was black, just a few days earlier by shooting that individual in the back twice.
    Ortiz had been investigating the attempted murder when he was gunned down. The attempted murder victim was targeted by Orozco simply because of his race after he was seen working in the yard of a Hawaiian Gardens home, witnesses said.
    Orozco also boasted prior to Ortiz’s killing that he wanted to kill a cop and make a name for his gang, Norwalk Superior Court Judge Philip Hickok said during Orozco’s 2007 sentencing.
    “The murder was committed without regard in front of two extremely impressionable and young girls,” Hickok said, referring to the star witnesses in the killing of the deputy, two sisters – 8- and 10-year-old girls – who described the shooting for the jury.
    “(Orozco) arranged to have witnesses, including those two very young girls, killed so that they would not testify,” Hickok said.
    Orozco is awaiting execution on death row.
    In the indictments released against his fellow gang members Thursday, federal authorities allege a string of attacks on black residents, including a shooting into a home with eight people inside. The document did not say if anyone was hit in the attack.
    In another instance, two gang members allegedly chased a black man, yelled a racist epithet at him and then beat him with a garden rake. The same man was later repeatedly stabbed by two gang members, according to the indictment, which charges them with his attempted murder.
    Next to the podium where O’Brien and law enforcement officials stood were two large tables covered with dozens of firearms, ranging from small snub-nosed revolvers to automatic rifles, seized during the investigation.
    “These firearms are only some of the weapons we have seized,” said John A. Torres, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
    “They have come from out-of-state … many of them specially from Arizona,” Torres said, holding a Bullpup rifle – an automatic rifle designed to be light and maneuverable – aloft for the crowd of 200 media and law enforcement members to see.
    In addition to the guns, deputies, officers and agents seized multiple kilos of cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin. They also found cash — at one location discovering $25,000 — and other contraband, authorities said.
    Mexican connection
    The investigation not only uncovered the gang’s activities, it revealed the gang’s strong ties to the Mexican Mafia – a Southern California prison gang – and to Mexican drug cartels, said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Salvador Hernandez.
    Ties to Mexico were also found among some of those arrested Thursday who were living in the U.S. illegally after being deported, many of them for violent crimes including murder, said Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kozak, who is part of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit.
    “(Some) are now facing life terms in federal prison,” Kozak said.
    O’Brien also noted everyone named in the indictments are facing lengthy terms in federal prisons, which require inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being deemed eligible for parole.
    While the state of California has announced it must continue to parole a number of inmates early due to budget constraints, such will not be the case with these indictments, O’Brien added.
    “We don’t have that problem in federal court,” he said.
    The indictments mark at least the second time in less than two years that federal authorities have accused Latino gang members of attacking black residents because of their race.
    The indictments also mark the single largest “gang takedown in U.S. history,” O’Brien said, noting the second-largest indictment ever released was by him for a Los Angeles gang less than two years ago.
    Of the 88 people arrested Thursday, 63 were named in the indictments and another 25 were arrested on probable cause charges during the operation. An additional 35 people named in the indictment were already in custody and more arrests are expected to come, O’Brien said.
    “If you think we’re gone today at the end of this press conference, we’re not gone,” O’Brien vowed in a booming voice. “We’re never going to be gone.”

  • Karen
    May 25, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Horace: We are talking about innocent people who have been falsely chraged with crimes. Nobody here has any problem with gang members being arrested. It seems the feds only went after them because they targeted a police officer. Othwerwise they don’t care.

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