WASHINGTON – The National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, urged the U.S. Congress Thursday to reauthorize the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to ensure greater fairness for young people caught up in the system.
Some 18,000 Hispanic youth are in U.S. jails, prisons and detention centers, according to estimates by the NCLR, which claims that young Latinos endure “harsher treatment” than their white counterparts who commit the same crimes.
In its report, “Reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act: The Impact on Latino Youth,” the NCLR says “community-based programs” are cheaper and more effective alternatives to detention.
Reauthorizing the 1974 Act, which expired in 2007, would address “the policies that treat youth as adults, disproportionately affecting Latinos,” according to La Raza.
Latino youth are 28 percent more likely than whites to be arrested and are admitted to adult jails at 1.4 times the rate of white youth, the report says.
This “adultification” of Latino youths in the corrections system puts them at a higher risk of sexual abuse and suicide, while young people detained in the adult criminal justice system also suffer from greater educational disconnection.
“Our juvenile justice system is in dire need of reform,” Eric Rodriguez, NCLR vice president for Research, Advocacy and Legislation said in a statement accompanying the report.
“Congress needs to renew this important legislation and embrace community-based programs that reach Latino youth before they come into contact with law enforcement, helping these children stay out of trouble,” he said.
NCLR says community-based alternatives offer better results than incarceration in terms of preventing recidivism.
“For too long, juvenile justice policy has been driven by negative emotions and fear instead of research and real-world experience, which has led to excessively punitive measures that are more harmful than helpful to Latino youth and communities,” the study says.
According to the Hispanic advocacy group, the U.S. Congress now has the opportunity to take a “rational approach” to juvenile justice reform by reauthorizing the law.
Ninety percent of Hispanics between the ages of 10 and 17 live in states that allow youths charged as adults to be held in adult detention facilities prior to trial.
The states with the largest number of Latino youth incarcerated in adult prisons are California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. EFE