At the Orange County Commission meeting Tuesday, a gala of citizens came forward in the public comments portion of the meeting to address the problem of Orange County’s jail apparently only listing inmates as black or white, with other minorities listed sometimes as white.
But according to Dr. George Ralls, Public Health and Safety Director for the county, the county does account for the race of those it arrests – that just isn’t shown on the public jail arrest website, bestjail.com.
Ralls said they were looking at whether they could better differentiate the various Hispanic ethnicities to be more accurate.
“One thing we’re looking at is whether we could better differentiate the Hispanic groups by culturally different segments like Colombian, Cuban and so forth,” he said. “It’ll be a lot clearer for you. I do think there’s still more work to do.”
Local activist Phillip Arroyo originally brought the issue to light, saying the discrepancy and generalization of the system could make the number of white people in prison disproportionately higher than the reality – that being that the number of minorities is actually far higher in reality.
Not knowing that, Arroyo said, ran the risk of misinterpreting the ways to reduce crime and stop racial profiling and other such issues.
Ralls said they actually do split up the arrest percentages by race – so rather than 71 percent white and 29 percent black like Arroyo perceived it to be on the public site, it’s actually split pretty evenly between white, black and Hispanic. That still leaves minority citizens with much higher arrests than white people, however, which no one thought was a good thing.
Ralls and Orange County Public Information Officer Carrie Proudfit both said the county would work on putting up the more detailed information for the public to see soon.
But the public comment section went on anyway, with several powerful voices joining Arroyo – among them John Jordan of the ACLU and Rasha Mubarak of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Florida chapter.
“One of the issues of great concern is disparities in the criminal justice system,” Jordan said. “It’s well known Hispanics, Latinos, are subject to the same problems as African Americans, which include disproportionate arrests in the juvenile justice system and adult justice system, and what happens to them when they are inside the system. The important of keeping accurate statistics in terms of race and ethnicity is imperative.
“I think it’s important that any factual discrepancies attempt to be resolved, so at least we’re operating with the same set of facts. It would be good if we do not reinforce the post-truth world.”
Mubarak brought up another dimension few others had – that those of Middle Eastern descent also need their own category.
“There has been an increase in Islamophobia, hate crimes, discrimination, profiling, and this has left a lot of Arab Americans feeling a lot more anxious at this time compared to other minorities, underprivileged races and ethnicities,” she said. “How do we make people feel accounted for? Social services, protections, civil liberties… and something simple as accounting them for a box, when, God forbid, they are arrested.”
She said the Council was working with the Census Bureau to hopefully include a new box to check off for Middle Eastern and North African people (MENA) on arrest forms and other such things.
“This will not allow limited data that will reflect our diverse society here,” she said. “And equal treatment to address socioeconomic issues within specific communities like African American, Latino, the marginalized communities like Arab American and middle eastern, and provide appropriate services.”