Gary D. LaFree

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



The purpose of this working paper is to help provide better information on the criminal justice experiences of Hispanics, this study pursued two objectives: (1) to discover whether there is evidence that the criminal justice system treats Hispanics and nonHispanics differently, and (2) if there is such evidence, to determine the extent to which the different treatment can be explained by differences in the types of crimes committed by Hispanics and nonHispanics. Criminologists and policymakers have long been concerned about differential treatment of minorities by the legal system. However, few researchers have specifically examined the treatment of Hispanics. The purpose of this study was to determine whether and to what extent criminal justice outcomes and their determinants differ for Hispanic and nonHispanics in Tucson, Arizona and El Paso, Texas. An analysis of 755 defendants whose most serious charge was robbery or burglary showed major differences in official processing in the two jurisdictions. In Tucson, I found little evidence of unfavorable Hispanic treatment. Being Hispanic had no effect on the type of adjudication received, verdicts, or sentence severity. Hispanics in Tucson received more favorable pretrial release decisions than whites and spent less time in detention awaiting the adjudication of their cases. By contrast, Hispanic defendants in El Paso received less favorable pretrial release outcomes than white defendants, were more likely to be convicted in jury trials, and received more severe sentences when they were found guilty by trial. Qualitative interviews in the two jurisdictions suggested that the treatment differences in Tucson and El Paso may be due in part to different systems of providing attorneys to indigent defendants, differences between established Hispanic citizens and less well established Mexican-American citizens and Mexican nationals, different methods for granting pretrial release, and disadvantages in court processing due to English language difficulties. Future research should compare the criminal justice experiences of Hispanics and nonHispanics in other jurisdictions and for other crime types.


Working Paper Series 105


Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, Department of Sociology,and National Institute of Justice Grant.


SW Hispanic Research Institute