Mexican Prison Overcrowding Reveals Underlying Issues

Mexican prisons are suffering from severe overcrowding due to preventative detentions and the lack of sentencing alternatives.  Mexico Evaluates, a Center of Analysis and Public Policy, has referred to the country’s prison system as a ticking time bomb.

The overcrowding in Mexico’s penitentiaries is obvious when you look at the capacities and current populations. There is at least one prison operating at 400% capacity and six are operating between 176-274% capacity. Currently, there are 242,000 inmates incarcerated in 420 prisons designed to house 195,000.  As in the United States, Felipe Calderon, President from 2006 to 2012, focused on building more cells.  This did not cure the problem, which lies in the overuse of preventative detention and the lack of alternative sentencing

Statistics from this past year reveal that 41.3% of prisoners had not yet been convicted.  There were three Mexican prisons where more than 60% of inmates had not been convicted, four where more than 76% of inmates had not been convicted, and in the prison in Tabasco, 94.5% of inmates had yet to be convicted.

The second major issue is that jail-time is viewed as the only logical solution to crimes.  In 2011, 96.4% of sentences called for incarcerations.  Only 3.6% of crimes were punished with other sanctions such as fines.  This is evidence that minor or common crimes are being treated the same as serious and violent crimes.  For example, the penal code establishes a similar sentence for a nonviolent robbery and a homicide without aggravating factors.  Approximately 72,000 inmates are currently incarcerated for theft.

The Mexican penal system must be altered and not simply used for preventative detention.  Alternative sanctions should also be explored so that the punishments better fit the crimes.  Overcrowded prisons become violent and ineffective at any form of rehabilitation. Former President Felipe Calderon admitted the country’s prisons only serve a retributive purpose.  The new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has promised to envision new solutions.  Hopefully those will be coming soon.

Family members mourn the loss of inmates killed in prison riot where 44 were left dead.

Family members mourn the loss of inmates killed in prison riot where 44 were left dead.

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101

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One response to “Mexican Prison Overcrowding Reveals Underlying Issues

  1. Nigeria prison is not left behind in overcrowding. It is a global problem and it can be traced to the way of arrest by police and the process of trial by the Judiciary. Is an endemic which has consumed human race. Not until solution is provided for the individual victim of over crowding the problem remain the same. “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted (Determined) citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Eleanor Roosevelt
    Not until we have concerned individual who is willing to listen to detained individual and taken a step to address the issue the problem of overcrowding will continue to passist. MEXICO is a sorry case.

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