Lack of Accurate Information Has Made Latino Youth “Virtually Invisible” in Illinois

December 12 2011


Julian Teixeira

(202) 776-1812

New Report Focuses on Youth in Illinois Juvenile Justice System

Chicago—According to a study released today by NCLR (National Council of La Raza) Illinois’ law enforcement and courts collect far too little statistical information about Latino youth in the state’s juvenile justice system to implement policy changes and preventative strategies that would reduce the numbers of Latino ensnared in the system.

Counting Latino Youth in the Illinois Juvenile Justice System details the inadequacy of information collected about young Latinos, who comprise one of the fastest growing segments of the state’s population. The report offers the state a number of recommendations for how to improve data collection and how to use that data to bolster services to the Hispanic community.

“The lack of accurate data on Latino youth in the Illinois juvenile justice system is harmful to the entire state,” said Michael Rodriquez, Executive Director, Enlace Chicago. “We need reliable data to evaluate every point in the system and to see where it is best to commit limited, but much valued, resources. That way, we can intensify our efforts so that we can better intervene and work with Latino youth.”
Between 2000 and 2009, the number of Hispanics younger than age 18 in Illinois jumped 21.5 percent. Unfortunately there is no reliable count on the number of Hispanic youth caught in the juvenile justice system. And, most of the available information is inaccurate because Hispanics are often lumped into the White, Black or “Other” categories.

According to the study, the available data—rendering Hispanics virtually invisible—cannot adequately guide policymakers and practitioners through the creation, implementation, and evaluation of more effective preventative policies.

“The information problems often begin at the first point a Latino youth comes in contact with a police officer,” said Maricela Garcia, NCLR’s Director of Capacity-Building. “Police forms frequently list the ethnicities of ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic’ as a race option, but neither is a race category.

The report suggests that authorities should ask a two-part question. They first part should ask whether the person is Hispanic/Latino. After receiving a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, they should ask the person’s race without allowing Hispanic/Latino as a possible answer, she advises.

The report also recommends making collected information available to the public on a computerized database, funding five local pilot projects to improve data collection, and implementing reforms based on needs identified from the data collected.

“Accurate data is the first step in understanding who the juvenile justice system serves and ensuring the most effective policies and programs are implemented,” said Lisa Jacobs, Program Manager, Illinois Models for Change. “Illinois has always been a leader in juvenile justice, but we can do more to guarantee that our system functions. Good data is an important component of good decision-making.”

Read the complete findings and recommendations of “Counting Latino Youth in the Illinois Juvenile Justice System.”

The report was created with the assistance of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Juvenile Justice System Reform Initiative.

NCLR—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. For more information on NCLR, please visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Issues: Children and Juvenile Justice, Criminal Justice System, Juvenile & Criminal Justice, Research, Youth
Geography:California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Texas