The Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men recently welcomed speaker Juanita Diaz-Cotto. Her lecture, “Latinas and Imprisonment in the U.S.” focused on gender and isolation in prisons, and more specifically, the Latino and Latina experience with the criminal justice system in the United States.
Much of the lecture addressed the war on drugs, not just in America, but in Europe and South America as well. “Latinas are affected by the war on drugs wherever they go,” said Diaz-Cotto. For instance, Latinas are more likely to be searched when coming from a Hispanic country, explained Diaz-Cotto, not simply because they are Hispanic, but because they’re from a country that carries a hefty stigma.
Diaz-Cotto provided her audience with startling facts about Latinas in relation to the criminal justice system in the U.S. Not only are Latinas more likely to be incarcerated, but Latinas are less likely to have attorneys, forcing them to rely on court appointed public defenders. Under the guidance of public defenders, those incarcerated are more likely to take plea bargains, get longer and harsher sentences, and receive the death penalty.
The discriminatory treatment of juveniles, said Diaz-Cotto, is also a major issue. Latinos are more likely to be abused by police, especially since there are few Latinos in the law enforcement field to relate to, and there are more police in Latino neighborhoods. Diaz-Cotto stressed the later issue claiming that cops patrol Latino neighborhoods and focus on street crimes; however, if officials focused more on white collar crimes – and were active in all neighborhoods – statistics might be less skewed.
Diaz-Cotto is a sociology, women’s studies, and Latin American and Caribbean studies professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where she also serves as Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. Active in human rights for more than 30 years, she has given lectures and presentations all across the globe. Diaz-Cotto is the author of “Chicana Lives and Criminal Justice,” winner of an International Latino Book Award and Foreword Magazine Book Award. She has published several other books including “Gender, Ethnicity and the State: Latina and Latino Prison Politics.”