Latinos want better treatment by the justice system

February 10, 2010 7:50:40 PM PST
A number of community groups in San Jose have long contended there are far too many Latinos locked-up in the criminal justice system. Now everyone from the mayor to the police chief pledged to work together to do something about that.

For decades, Latino community groups have been saying the criminal justice system in Santa Clara County treats Latinos unfairly, be it police officers or the courts.

District Attorney Dolores Carr told us today that 80 percent of those in juvenile hall are Latino while they represent only 33 percent of the county's youth population. Today a who's who of county politics came together to support La Raza Roundtable and a Harvard study regarding Latino overrepresentation in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.

The study itself was done by the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program and does not analyze the disproportionate number of Latinos in jails or courts but rather addresses the communities desire and ability to work together to address the problem.

A group of Harvard students under the direction of faculty traveled to San Jose last fall and interviewed more than fifty community leaders. Their first and primary finding was that "there is widespread desire to address the issue of overrepresentation" and recommended the community "engage in a consensus building process."

As a nod to the efforts of La Raza Roundtable and to the findings of the Harvard group, representatives from city hall, the courts & the police department gathered in one room today to say they will work together to find common ground and come up with solutions.

District Attorney Dolores Carr says she is assigning Deputy DA Christopher Arriola to work on the issue and act as a liaison as the collaborative process moves forward.

Carr says "We will examine the tough issues. Can we approach our work in a different manner that would reduce Latinos and other minorities in the justice system? Beyond self-examination, we will work in a broader collaboration with agencies to address the problem."

San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis and Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith made similar pledges. The Mayor of San Jose Chuck Reed and City Manager Debra Figone added city halls commitment to moving forward in a direction that will benefit minorities and the community as a whole.

No one was happier with the message today than the leader of La Raza Roundtable, Victor Garza. Garza says "This is a truly historic time in the city and county's history. For decades we have tried to make headway on this issue and there has always been debate. Now I can see we are working together and that means we will succeed."

The commitment to find common ground and come up with solutions moves forward in the next ninety days. That's when the Harvard team plans to conduct a two day mediation session with various stakeholders. The Harvard study was done at no cost and Victor Garza says if a similar independent organization would have done the work, it would have cost $100,000.