Latino Public Opinion & Perception

The Latino Opinion Paradox

DC protest

Immigration reform movement sit-in in front of the White House, 2010

In public opinion surveys, Americans often display a split personality on criminal justice issues. They can support harsh punishments but also doubt that the prison system is effective at rehabilitating people. Latinos also display varied opinions, including paradoxes specific to their experiences with the justice system. They feel aggrieved about perceived mistreatment but also seek protection from the criminal justice system. Hispanics hold police responsible for controlling crime in their neighborhoods but at the same time regard law enforcement with a great degree of suspicion. Defying standard ideological and partisan categories, Latinos have strongly favored both gun control and, until recently, the death penalty. Latinos’ views tend to fall somewhere in between blacks and whites, who are more clearly polarized (see footnote). Finally, Latino attitudes on criminal justice matters are uniquely influenced by immigration. Perceptions sometimes differ between the native born and the foreign born, and the entangling of immigration policy and criminal law enforcement is a complicating factor.

To explore the paradoxes inherent in Latino attitudes on crime and the criminal justice system, the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute examined a variety of public opinion surveys and research publications. No single study provides a full panorama of Latino views on these matters, and so this publication is meant to serve as a resource that compiles information and directs the reader to some of the most important sources of data and analysis.

The research is addressed in three main articles:

  1. Criminal Justice Reform in California,
  2. Perceptions of Police and Racial Profiling, and
  3. Opinions on Immigration Enforcement

Five additional pieces highlight some noteworthy information from the inquiry and provide resources for additional analysis. The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute updates this document regularly, and recent news pieces are featured here as well.

Major findings

  • An overwhelming majority of Latinos agree that California’s criminal justice and public safety systems need to be altered and that state priorities are out of line with residents’ interests. Latinos have a strong sense that proposed public safety realignment policies will make positive changes in the system and want budgetary focus to shift toward education and rehabilitation efforts.
  • Hispanic attitudes toward police are on average very poor and generally fall between those of blacks and whites. Hispanics have low confidence that police will treat them fairly and are concerned about the use of excessive force. Perceptions of unfairness are heightened by police involvement with immigration enforcement.
  • With the current policy attention to immigration reform, the enforcement of immigration measures raises concerns for many Latinos. Overall, they agree that local police forces should not be involved in immigration enforcement and that those tasks should be the responsibility of the federal government.

Footnote: Throughout the report, the terms “black” and “white” refer to the non-Hispanic portions of those populations.

Image courtesy of Arasmus Photo.

Latinos and the Criminal Justice System, is a set of digital publications produced by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC and supported by Californians for Safety and Justice.

Lead Authors: Bri Gauger, Master of Planning; Katelyn Leenhouts, Master of Public Policy; Jennifer Moore, Master of Public Policy

Editorial Manager: Anna Fischer, Program Coordinator, Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, anna.fischer [at]

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