Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

Recidivism and Reincarceration

Source: Porter County Sheriff

Similar to disparities found at the pretrial and sentencing periods, a 2009 study by McGovern, Demuth, and Jacoby using data collected from 15 states in 1994 found disparities in rates of reincarceration for Latino males. The study controlled for other influential factors such as an offender’s prior record and offense severity. The study of rearrest, reconviction, and reincarceration rates in the three years following the initial release from prison found that Latinos are significantly disadvantaged in the criminal justice system. Data showed that Hispanic rearrest and reconviction levels were similar to those of whites, but Hispanic reincarceration levels were much higher (McGovern, Demuth, & Jacoby, 2009). This study suggests that Latinos are victims of stereotyping by criminal justice officials who may consider Hispanics to be a greater flight risk and “more dangerous to the public” (McGovern, Demuth, & Jacoby, 2009).

Using a different methodology, a 2011 report by the California Department of Corrections found that recidivism–measured only as a return to prison–was lower for Latinos than for blacks or whites. Three-year recidivism rates for all releases in California, as shown in Figure 1, were highest among whites (67.1 percent), African Americans (71.4 percent), and Native American/Alaska Natives (72.4 percent). The three-year recidivism rate for Hispanic/Latino prison releases was 59.5 percent (CDCR, 2011).

According to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Latinos also are among the lowest to recidivate during the first, second, and third year after their initial release. Release data from California for fiscal year 2006–07 found the recidivism rate for Latino first-time offenders to be among the lowest in the state (CDCR, 2011).


Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 2011 CDCR Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report, November 23, 2011.

Methods of Decreasing Recidivism

Through a review of literature on the role of rehabilitative programs in reducing recidivism rates, Lipsey and Cullen (2007) conclude that rehabilitative programs are significantly more effective in reducing recidivism than supervision, imprisonment, or other deterrence-based programs and note that the next steps are to research what type of programs are best for what type of offenders.

Rehabilitative programs have been found to have positive results for reducing recidivism rates in the Latino community. Restorative justice programs, which serve as an alternative to many of the techniques used by the juvenile justice system, can provide promising benefits to offenders, victims, and the community. Rodriquez (2007) analyzed the effects of restorative justice programs on reducing recidivism rates of youth offenders. Using data from Maricopa County, Arizona (1991–2001), Rodriguez (2007) found that restorative justice programs significantly reduced the likelihood of recidivism. The study compared recidivism rates of restorative justice participants with rates of juveniles processed through the court. Both groups had large numbers of Latino youth (51% of the restorative justice participants and 28% of the court-processed youth). Findings point to the promising results that restorative justice programs can have, but more research needs to be done to establish the extent to which these programs can be effective in reducing crime.

Another study analyzed the effects of a community-based psycho-educational counseling program focused on promoting life skills in reducing recidivism rates among a group of mostly Latino juvenile offenders, most of whom had committed misdemeanors. Three out of five juvenile offenders who participated in the counseling intervention program did not commit new offenses within two years, and their recidivism rates were lower than those of youth who instead were referred to a probationary program. The findings suggest that life skills approaches may work for Latino youth who have committed status offenses or misdemeanors (Lancaster, Balkin, Garcia, & Valarezo, 2011).

Works Cited


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