The next country we’ll be looking at is Mexico. The Mexican government came under fire this past summer, when Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, an infamous drug lord, escaped from his prison for the second time. There is a high amount of violent crime as a result of gangs and Drug cartels. Also stemming from this is widespread corruption, which can result in police looking the other way when it comes to gang violence, and judges letting people like El Chapo off easy. Because of that corruption, the police are not trusted by the Mexican people, and many consider reporting crimes to be a “waste of time.”

A Mexican security officer escorting a prisoner

Police in Mexico are not generally trusted by the people. That’s not all that surprising, considering that the Mexican government estimates that drug cartels pay around 1.27 billion pesos (about $100 million USD) in bribes to police officers nationwide each month. The problem with the police in Mexico is not just that the bribes make them look the other way, but also that the police have questionable practices. Between 2010 and 2013, there were over 7,000 reports of torture at the hands of Mexican security forces, at all levels. However, the true number is probably far higher, as thousands more have likely gone unreported. Amnesty International found that 64% of Mexicans are afraid that they will be tortured to get a “confession” or incriminate another person if they are detained by police. The lack of trust in police means that most crimes go unreported. Even when a person is kidnapped and held for ransom, the family will often consider it far easier to just find a way to pay the ransom and not get the police involved.

In contrast to most of the world’s criminal justice systems, defendants in Mexico are essentially presumed guilty until proven innocent. The majority of evidence presented to courts is not spoken, but is instead written down and handed over. Much of the time, there is no jury to hear the case, so the judge singlehandedly determines the outcome. In 2008, the Mexican Congress passed reforms to the criminal justice system in an attempt to make trials more fair and open. One of the reforms is for trials to include oral arguments. However, the process of actually implementing these reforms is very slow, and it appears unlikely that all of Mexico’s 31 states will be able to meet the June 2016 deadline. The criminal elite of Mexico can also find ways to beat the system, either by bribing judges or using expensive lawyers to find loopholes. Even in prison, “narcos” are able to take advantage of the system. El Chapo had regular access to drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes during his first imprisonment, and has proven that he can escape at the first hint that he may be extradited to the United States.

El Chapo’s prison cell

The prisons themselves in Mexico leave a lot to be desired. Like those in the United States, Mexican prisons are overcrowded. A recent report by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission states that Mexican prisons have been about 25% overpopulated continuously for the past 10 years, and that 1 out of every 4 prisoners doesn’t have a bed. Prisoners have often complained that the prison conditions are inhumane. Nonexistent healthcare, spoiled food, and unsanitary living conditions are just some of the common complaints. American prisons may be very bare bones, they are at least sanitary, and normally provide adequate healthcare to prisons.

The Mexican criminal justice system is a mess. The people don’t trust the police or the courts, and to be honest, they shouldn’t. In this system, innocent people are tortured into giving false confessions. Defendants are presumed to be guilty. Sentences are handed down by a single judge who has not heard any oral testimony. Prisoners are subjected to inhumane living conditions, and men like El Chapo can essentially just walk out whenever they want. This is a deeply flawed system, and one that will need drastic changes if it wants to have any hope of regaining public trust. It’s difficult to even estimate true crime rates because so little of it is reported. It is very clear that Mexico’s model of criminal justice does not work.

Mexico is not alone in having a police force the public doesn’t trust. Many Americans, especially persons of color, don’t trust the police, especially given the recently increased coverage of police shootings and excessive force against persons of color. American police forces may not face widespread corruption, but they will still have to work to regain and maintain public trust. The United States may not actually torture people into giving false confessions, but there have been plenty of cases in which people are bullied by police departments into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. And American prisons may not be nearly as bad as Mexican prisons, but they are still overcrowded and don’t offer the best living conditions. Mexico’s criminal justice system can serve as a sort of warning to the United States, to not let our system deteriorate to that level, and to continue implementing reforms to improve the system.


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