Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Leslie Paik

Subject Categories

Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminology and Criminal Justice | Law and Politics | Law and Race | Law and Society | Legislation | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance


Latinx, Immigrants, Criminalization, Law and Society, Mass Incarceration, Criminal Justice


The United States leads the world in incarceration with just over 2.2 million people in state or federal prisons or local jails in 2014 (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2016). Although the number of incarcerated individuals has declined by about .5 percent since its peak in 2008 (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2016), the fact remains that mass incarceration is an epidemic in the United States. Over the last decade much has been written about the effects of mass incarceration on people of color, with many analysts pointing to the fear of crime as contributing to the formulation of current policies, which in turn produce racial and ethnic inequalities in the American penal system (Morin 2009). For example, the “war on drugs” is often cited as the greatest force behind the growth of the prison population and has largely targeted the Latinx and African American communities, based on the misperception that they are responsible for a majority of drug-related crimes (Morín 2009). That Latinx have historically been perceived as criminals, drug-lords, and as particularly prone to violence has only increased support for punitive policies and harsher sentences.

As the country’s largest racial and ethnic group and the fastest growing ethnic group being imprisoned, it is important to examine the ways in which the Latinx community has been impacted by the relationship between law and society in the U.S. Beginning with the understanding that law is both constituted by and constitutes social relations; this thesis aims to demonstrate the ways in which negative cultural stereotypes have been used to 1) create laws that criminalize Latinx groups and 2) sanction their mistreatment in legal and non-legal settings. By focusing on the specific time periods of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, we can see that negative images of Latinx groups perpetuated in the media are used strategically by policymakers to rouse public outcry and garner support for harsher, more punitive criminal justice and immigration policies for both adults and juveniles, contributing to higher incarceration rates and mass deportation. Once validated and reinforced by official law, these negative stereotypes then trickle down into non-legal social institutions.