Alvaro is one of many political prisoners, and his case reflects a criminal justice system that few organizations have the courage to challenge. The statistics related to Latinos, organizers and our collective experiences with law enforcement are disturbing, but offer a glimpse of the true nature of a system that keeps Alvaro in a cage today.

Facts about Latinos and the "Justice" System

  • Latinos are the fastest growing group behind bars. Between 1985 and 1995 Latinos in prisons nationwide more than tripled. In 1993, whites made up 74% of the general population, but only 36% of federal and state prison inmates. In 1970, there were 5,600 women in federal and state prisons. By 1996 there were 75,000. 60% of that population are black and Latina. In 1993, the overall incarceration rate for juveniles was 221 per 1000,000; for Latino youth it was 481 per 100,000; and for black youth it was 810 per 100,000. [Source: "Race Relations in Prison" white paper.]
  • The chances of incarceration in America for Latino youth were three times higher than for white youth. African-American youth with no prior criminal records were six times more likely to be incarcerated. For every offense category, juveniles of color are more likely than whites to be tried in adult courts. In 1997, three out of every four minors placed in adult prisons were black or brown. [Source: "And Justice for Some," 2000 report funded by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.]
  • White victims may more readily identify a youth of color as the offender. Law enforcement and court officers that may have racial prejudices have the power to make the initial arrest, hold the suspect, refer a case to juvenile court rather than letting a child go with a warning or refer a case to adult court where conviction and imprisonment are much more likely than in juvenile court. [Source:"And Justice for Some," 2000 report funded by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.]
  • While Latino prisoners are about 35% of the California prison population, they make up 56% of the prisoners housed in the Security Housing Units (SHUs). The Department of Corrections reports that those in the SHU are there for disciplinary infractions (50%) and gang affiliation (50%). Yet the rules governing the gang placement policies have been ruled illegal by the State's Office of Administrative Law. The information used to gang label prisoners is notoriously unreliable as it is obtained under the severe coercive circumstance of the "Snitch, Parole or Die Policy." That policy states that the once gang labeled the only way to get out of the social isolation and sensory deprivation of 22.5 hour a day lockup in the SHU is to tell on other gang members (snitch), parole and leave prison or die. Such a policy feeds the racism in prison and hardens homeboys and hangers-on into true gang members with allegiance to the prison criminal enterprise. [Source: "Race Relations in Prison" white paper.]
  • Latino prisoners, many of whom face English-only-speaking guards deal with harassment, beatings and targeting because of their ethnicity. On July 17, 1999, Florida prisoner Frank Valdes was removed from his disciplinary cell on X-Wing -- the area for the most dangerous inmates -- by a team of corrections officers in a violent ``cell extraction.'' Prison guards later said Valdes refused to come out so they could search his cell for a weapon. In the second cell, some of the officers later wrote, they saw Valdes diving off his bunk or falling from the steel doors onto the floor in an attempt to inflict injuries on himself. But an autopsy revealed that Valdes had 22 broken ribs, three broken vertebrae, a broken jaw and serious internal injuries including bruised intestines and a torn liver, and investigators revealed Valdes had been the recipient of a brutal beating in a shower as retribution for the cell extraction, and that other inmates were later summoned to clean up the blood. In 2001, seven officers were charged with murder in the case. Six of the corrections officers in the case also face charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, suggesting they had planned to beat up Valdes. Several of the officers face charges of falsifying records and of being accessories after the fact. [Source: Miami Herald, 12 May 2001]
  • The Sparling memo, a document written by Texas' former Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jon Sparling advising prosecutors to exclude from juries "any member of a minority group," was incorporated into a manual that was used in a training program that eventually drew prosecutors from as many as 220 different Texas counties. [Source: Andrew Hammel, Discrimination and Death in Dallas: A Case Study in Systemic Racial Exclusion.]

Facts about racism and the "justice" system:

  • In Ohio, there were 3,551 juveniles held in custody in public facilities. People of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, comprised 14.3% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 30% of the juveniles arrested and 43% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections.
  • In Texas, there were 3,505 juveniles held in custody in public facilities. People of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, comprised 50% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 65% of the juveniles held in secure detention, 80% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections, and 100% of the juveniles held in adult jails.
  • In Virginia, people of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, constituted 27% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for nearly 60% of the juveniles arrested and 57% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections.
  • In New Jersey, people of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, constituted 29% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 61% of the juveniles arrested, 87% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections, and 87% of the juveniles transferred to adult criminal court.
  • In Pennsylvania, people of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, constituted 14.3% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 30% of the juveniles arrested, 79% of the juveniles held in secure detention, over 87% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections, and 74% of the juveniles transferred to adult criminal court.
  • In Wisconsin, people of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, constituted 11% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 19% of the juveniles arrested, 61% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections and 75% of the juveniles confined in adult prisons.
  • In Connecticut, people of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, constituted 15.3% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 46% of the juveniles arrested, 73% of the juveniles held in secure detention, 69% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections, 80% of the juveniles transferred to adult criminal court, and 100% of the juveniles held in adult jails.
  • In Massachusetts, people of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, constituted 17.2% of the youth population statewide, but they accounted for 52% of the juveniles arrested, 65% of the juveniles held in secure detention, 57% of the juveniles placed in secure corrections, 81% of the juveniles held in adult jails, and 86% of the juveniles transferred to adult criminal court.

There are presently 80,000 inmates in the US employed in commercial activity, some earning as little as 21 cents an hour. Prisoners manufacture everything from blue jeans, to auto parts, to electronics and furniture. Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do. Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour. Microsoft used prisoners to pack and ship software. Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries. Inmates are also employed in a wide variety of service jobs as well. TWA has used prisoners to handle reservations, while AT&T has used prison labor for telemarketing. In Oregon, prisoners do all the data entry and record keeping in the Secretary of State's corporation division. Other jobs include desktop publishing, digital mapping and computer-aided design work.

“While the correlations found between race and who gets arrested, suspended or expelled in schools are so consistent that it is impossible to deny that a linkage exist, in public discussions the issue tends to be avoided due to the controversy and tensions surrounding racial issues in American society.”

[Source: Noguera, Pedro. Preventing Violence in Schools Through the Production of Docile Bodies.]