Hispanics and the Criminal Justice System: Low Confidence, High Exposure

Apr 07, 2009

At a time when Latinos are interacting more than ever with police, courts and prisons, their confidence in the U.S. criminal justice system is closer to the low levels expressed by blacks than to the high levels expressed by whites, according to a pair of nationwide surveys by the Pew Research Center.

Six-in-ten (61%) Hispanics say they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that the police in their local communities will do a good job enforcing the law, compared with 78% of whites and 55% of blacks. Just under half (46%) of Hispanics say they have confidence that police officers will not use excessive force on suspects, compared with 73% of whites and 38% of blacks. Similarly, just under half of Hispanics say they are confident that police officers will treat Hispanics fairly (45%) and that courts will treat Hispanics fairly (49%). In comparison, 74% of whites and 37% of blacks say they have confidence that the police will treat blacks and whites equally.

The report also finds that more than half (56%) of Latinos say they or an immediate family member had contact with the criminal justice system in the previous five years. Contact includes reporting a crime to the police, serving on a jury, serving as a sworn witness in court, attending court on a criminal matter, being questioned by the police, being arrested, being on probation or parole, or serving time in jail or prison.

This report is based on two surveys. The first is a bilingual telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,015 Hispanics ages 18 and older. Interviews were conducted from June 9 through July 13, 2008 by the Pew Hispanic Center, a Project of the Pew Research Center. The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The second is a Pew Social and Demographic Trends telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 3.086 adults conducted between September 5 and October 6, 2007. The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.   

Read the full report Hispanics and the Criminal Justice System: Low Confidence, High Exposure on the Pew Hispanic Center's Web site.

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