April 7, 2009

Hispanics and the Criminal Justice System

II. Confidence in the Criminal Justice System

Six-in-10 (61%) Hispanics report a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that police officers in their community will do a good job of enforcing the law, and 57% are confident that police will do a good job of dealing with gangs. However, this still leaves a notable minority who hold a negative opinion about police behavior. A plurality (47%) express just some or very little confidence that police will avoid using excessive force on suspects, while 46% have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence. Half (50%) of Hispanics have just some or very little confidence that police will treat Hispanics fairly, while 45% feel a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that the treatment will be fair. In regard to the courts, 44% of Hispanics have just some or very little confidence that they will treat Hispanics fairly, and 49% have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that courts will treat Hispanics fairly.

Two of the five questions about confidence in the legal system asked of Latinos in 2008 were also asked of blacks and whites in 2007 (Pew Social & Demographic Trends, 2007). On those questions, levels of confidence among Latinos fall between the levels reported by whites and blacks. Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) whites have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in their local police to do a good job enforcing laws, while 61% of Latinos and 55% of blacks share that sentiment. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of whites report a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that police will not use excessive force on suspects, while 46% of Latinos and 38% of blacks express the same opinion.

A similar pattern emerges on the issue of police treatment of minorities. While Latinos were asked about their confidence that police would treat Latinos fairly, in 2007 blacks and whites were asked an analogous question about their confidence that police officers treat blacks and whites equally. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of whites had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that police treat blacks and whites equally. Half as many (37%) blacks reported thesame. In comparison, 45% of Latinos statthey feel a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that police will treat Hispanics fairly.

Young Latinos generally are less confident in the justice system than are older Latinos. While 54% of Latinos ages 18 to 29 have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that the police will do a good job of enforcing the law, this share is lower than the share of Latinos ages 30 to 39 (62%), ages 40 to 54 (66%) and ages 55 or older (67%) who say the same.

On three out of five confidence measures, immigrant Latinos report less confidence in thelegal system than do native-born Latinos. Half (50%) of native-born Latinos report a great deaor a fair amount of confidence that police will avoid using excessive force on suspects, while 42% of immigrant Latinos express the same level of confidence. Fifty-one percent of native-born Latinos are confident that police will treat Hispanics fairly, compared with 40% of the foreign born. Six-in-ten (60%) native-born Latinos feel a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that the courts will treat Hispanics fairly. In contrast, 42% of immigrant Latinos say the same.