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Prisons and the Justice System

Mexico faces new changes to its prison system to avoid overcrowding
File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
07/08/2017
09:00
Mexico City
Newspaper Leader by EL UNIVERSAL
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Common belief says prisons are crime universities where those incarcerated for minor offenses will learn new crimes, and escalate upon their release – if their sentence was a short one.

Data from the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico show most State prisons have poor qualifications, scoring 6.27 in average on a scale from 1 to 10.

Moreover, figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), show a fourth of the current inmate population is a repeat offender. That is, we're missing the mark on social rehabilitation, which is the main purpose of the entire prison system. In Mexico City, Colima, Baja California and Nuevo Leon, criminals had barely been released for 12 months before they were arrested again.

The same report says half of the country's prisoners are, on average, less than 35 years old, and 80% have minor children. Two-thirds used to work low-paying jobs and only 70% have basic education. Almost 90% were sentenced for some form of robbery and less than 10% were in possession of a weapon.

All the figures above paint the typical inmate as someone who committed a crime, most likely pushed into it by his social environment, and who hardly represents a potential threat to society; yet, he is put in a violent environment where he encounters dangerous criminals, and social rehabilitation becomes a slim possibility.

One of the main goals of the Mexican criminal justice system set in motion one year ago was to decrease the number of inmates, considering most offenses were eligible for preventive custody. Data from Mexico City reveals there has indeed been a decrease in the number of inmates in the capital city, eliminating overcrowding in our prisons.

However, preventive custody is only determined if there are counts of manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, human trafficking, crimes against health, among others. And, unlike the previous system, evidence needs to be presented after the investigation took place in order to prevent forced confessions.

Prisons are places where we put individuals who represent a threat to society. Nevertheless, police officers, attorneys, and experts have the obligation to bring forth evidence to argue the need for preventive custody.

Before we disqualify the justice system in its entirety, it's necessary that each player plays their part. This is a much-needed change, based on a different model. We only need that all the involved perform their tasks accordingly to ensure its success.

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