Why These Incarcerated Latinos Deserve Clemency

Why These Incarcerated Latinos Deserve Clemency

2. Ricardo Montes: Ricardo is a young father serving a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for openly operating a medical marijuana dispensary with his business partner between 2004 and 2006. The pair believed they were in compliance with California’s laws regarding medical marijuana; they sought legal advice, received a business license, paid state and federal taxes and ensured that every patient had a legitimate doctor’s note. But they were still prosecuted. This is because—unbeknownst to Ricardo before he was charged—a 2005 Supreme Court ruling held that the federal government could prosecute the production and use of cannabis even where states had legalized it for medicinal purposes. Today, as more states are moving toward legalizing marijuana, people of color are largely excluded from the legal market because of formidable barriers to entry. Ricardo’s fifth-grade daughter, Nina, was just four years old when he received his sentence. She thinks it is unfair that her father is imprisoned for operating a dispensary when many across the country, including in California, are doing the same thing. Nina has teamed up with the young daughter of Ricardo’s business partner, who is also incarcerated for his role in operating the dispensary, to fight for their parents to come home. Sign their petition.

3. Miguel Rodriguez: Sixteen-year-old Miguel was a promising high school student in 2009 when he and his three friends made an adolescent mistake. The group vandalized an uninhabited house in Tampa, Florida and was arrested for burglary and theft. Two of the teenagers were charged as juveniles and placed on probation. Miguel and the third teen—both of whom are Latino—were charged as adults. Even though Miguel was a first-time offender and none of the stolen items was found in his possession, he ultimately received a four-year sentence in state prison. When Miguel was first placed in adult jail, he experienced traumatizing abuse over a span of three days. Sadly, Miguel, who is still serving his sentence, has a common story. Latino youth are 43 percent more likely than white youth to be waived into the adult system. Further, Florida gives its prosecutors significant discretion in sentencing minors and boasts the highest rate of children prosecuted as adults. Underage people in adult facilities are more likely to be assaulted and raped. They are also more often placed in solitary confinement for their own protection. Furthermore, adult convictions are public record, making it difficult for people to pursue careers or college after incarceration. Susana Marino, Miguel’s mother, spends her days fiercely advocating for juvenile justice reform and Miguel’s release because she believes the criminal justice system is corrupt and treats people of color unfairly. Learn more about Miguel.

4. Efren Paredes: In 1989, Efren was a 15-year-old honors high school student in Michigan when he was sentenced to three life sentences for murder and armed robbery. Since the day of his arrest, Efren has maintained his innocence, explaining that he was framed by three other teenagers who all took plea deals and walked away with shorter sentences. In fact, Efren’s alibi witnesses stated he was at home with his family at the time the crime was committed. Although Efren’s claims of innocence have remained constant, one thing has not: the law. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life terms without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder is unconstitutional. The Court went further in 2016, applying this ruling retroactively so that people like Efren, who were sentenced as juveniles and are currently serving mandatory life imprisonment for murder, can have a shot at arguing for their release. At 43 years old, Efren has spent 27 years behind bars. During that time, he has accomplished incredible feats, including becoming a Literary Braille Transcriber certified by the U.S. Library of Congress and engaging in a successful campaign to create a Mexican-indigenous charter school in Los Angeles, among many other accomplishments. He is also a proud husband and father to three beautiful daughters who he maintains a close relationship with. Support Efren.

PLUS: Meet the Latina Fighting Mass Incarceration Through Music, Taína Asili

These are just a few examples of many egregious cases. Latinos account for 33.8 percent of the federal prison system, even though they are only 17.4 percent of the U.S. population. Latinos are also overrepresented in 31 of 50 state prisons. Moreover, we experience disparities across the entire criminal legal system compared to whites, from greater rates of policing to higher bail amounts and harsher sentences. Reforming the criminal justice system is a Latino issue that needs to be a priority in our community. Clemency is one way to reunite families and repair some of the harm mass incarceration has spawned.