Perspectivas del sistema de justicia penal en México: ¿Qué piensan sus operadores? (2016)

JABO 2016 report cover

Justiciabarómetro 2016


11/14/16 — (written by Kimberly Heinle) On November 14, 2016, Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its latest report in the Justiciabarómetro series, Justiciabarómetro 2016 Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What do its operators think?, thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

There are remarkably few surveys of judicial sector operatives in the world. The few that exist, like a recent survey in the UK, tend to rely on very small samples (< 5%). The 2016 Justiciabarómetro provides a comparative analysis of the justice system operators’ demographics and perspectives, as well as comparisons to similar data collected in 2010. Survey participants included 288 judges, 279 prosecutors, and 127 public defenders in 11 Mexican states, with a response rate of 56%, a 2.4% margin of error, and a 95% confidence interval.

The 2016 Justiciabarómetro builds on a series of surveys that Justice in Mexico has conducted since 2009. Through collaboration with bi-national teams of judicial system experts in Mexico, these Justiciabarómetro studies are intended to generate useful indicators of judicial system capacity and performance in order to contribute to both academic research and improved public policy efforts.

With over 120 questions, the 2016 Justiciabarómetro documents judicial sector operators’ profiles and perspectives on a variety of topics, such as judicial system effectiveness, compensation levels, and attitudes toward Mexico’s recent problems with crime and violence. Importantly, the study finds that there have been changes in judicial attitudes toward recent reform efforts, including a notable increase in favorability among judges toward the use of oral, adversarial trial procedures introduced in June 2008 and implemented nationwide over an eight-year period.

According to Justice in Mexico Director David Shirk, a professor of the Political Science and International Relations at University of San Diego, “There has been ample speculation about how well the courts have been adapting to the 2008 reforms. This study helps show that judges and other judicial sector operators are making progress, but also documents some of the serious challenges that remain.”

Some the most relevant findings include the following:

  • The majority of the operators of all judicial system operators are male (56%), under the age of 50 (79%), and have a post-graduate degree (57%).
  • 63% of judges surveyed earn more than $30,000 pesos each month, yet 72% of prosecutors and 82% of public defenders earn less than that amount.
  • Nearly all of the operators (89%) believe the justice system needed to be reformed and that the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has had positive effects since it began in 2008. An additional 90% think the NSJP creates greater trust in authorities, and 93% more argue it will accelerate judicial processes.
  • NSJP features are overwhelmingly well received, with roughly 95% of all operators preferring oral proceedings over previously implemented written methods, a significant increase from 2010 JABO results. Additionally, 98% prefer the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
  • The majority of respondents are in favor of the presumption of innocence (84% of judges, 76% of prosecutors, and 91% of public defenders) and believe the NSJP will help reduce corruption (80% of all operators).
  • 96% of all judicial system operators view judges as the most effective in their work when compared with prosecutors and public defenders, and an additional 96% view judges as the trust-worthiest.
  • Despite overwhelming agreement when operators were asked if they were prepared for the NSJP’s implementation and operation (86% of judges, 93% of prosecutors, and 90% of public defenders), between 13% and 29% of operators reported having never been trained in oral litigation or alternative methods to resolve cases.
  • A concerning 48% of prosecutors, 29% of public defenders, and 13% of judges believe authorities can operate above the law to investigate and punish individuals for crimes committed.
Graph of JABO Survey response rate

Justiciabarómetro 2016 Survey response rate by state and profession. Source: Justice in Mexico.

The study also includes findings on issues of growing concern, such as the frequently unreliable use of eye-witness testimony as evidence in court. The use of this practice in Mexico has been questioned by leading experts like Roberto Hernández, co-producer of the documentary film “Presunto Culpable” (Presumed Guilty) and an advisor on this study. According to the 2016 Justiciabarómetro survey, eyewitness testimony continues to be the most frequently used form of evidence provided in cases (68% of the time), followed by physical evidence (53%), and confessions (13%).

Overall, the 2016 Justiciabarómetro provides unique perspective on the administration of Justice in Mexico from the operators of the system. As noted by Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodriguez, a Mexican attorney and co-author of the study, “The survey provides a rare and penetrating look inside the Mexican criminal justice system, which traditionally has been like a ‘black box’ to outside observers.”

To read the full report, please click here: Download

For public commentary in English or Spanish about the report or other criminal justice issues in Mexico, please contact the report’s authors directly:


Suggested Citation:

Cortés, Nancy G., Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, David A. Shirk. Justiciabarómetro 2016 Perspectivas del sistema de justicia penal en México: ¿Qué piensan sus operadores? San Diego, CA: Justice in Mexico, 2016.

Relevant Background Sources:

Ingram, Matthew C., Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. Justiciabarómetro: Survey of Judges, Prosecutors, and Public Defenders in Nine Mexican States. San Diego, CA: Justice in Mexico, May 2011.

Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, David A. Shirk, María Eugenia Suárez de Garay, “Justiciabarómetro: Diagnóstico de los operadores del sistema de justicia.” March 12, 2015.

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015” special report

Drug Violence in Mexico 2015 cover image

On Friday, April 29, 2016, Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2016 special report entitled, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015.”

Drug Violence in Mexico (2016 Special Report)

Thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this is the project’s seventh annual study on organized crime and violence in Mexico. As in previous years, this report compiles the latest available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

This year’s report builds on past findings and seeks to provide new insights into Mexico’s recent security situation. The authors draw on the latest available data from multiple sources, with a focus on the rise in organized crime-related homicides in Mexico that reverses a three-year declining trend, as well as the emergence of cartelitos—smaller, fragmented cartel branches—in Mexico’s shifting drug trafficking landscape, and the Peña Nieto administration’s missteps and tone-deaf responses in a series of human rights tragedies and scandals in recent years. In fact, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) saw the public’s lowest approval rating and highest dissatisfaction rating not just for his first three years in office, but also surpassing that of his predecessors, Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, milenio, Lantia, CNDH.

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, Milenio, Lantia, CNDH.


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2013. Global Study on Homicide 2013: Trends, Context, Data. Vienna: UNODC.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Among the study’s most important findings is the increase in homicides in Mexico in 2015, up 8.1-8.7% from the number of homicides registered in 2014. The authors also found that between a quarter and a half of all homicides in Mexico in 2015 were attributed to organized crime groups. Meanwhile, there were increases in cases of intentional homicides registered in all but a handful of states, with the highest increase in Guerrero jumping from 1,514 cases in 2014 to 2,016 cases in 2015.

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015” was co-authored by Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk.

To read the full report, click here.

Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016


On October 8, 2015, Justice in Mexico launched a new report that provides a deep analysis of the current process of judicial reform in Mexico. The Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico 2008-2016, by authors Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk, analyzes the process of implementing judicial reform in Mexico as well as the impacts of the reform on the federal and state level, as well as some of the past, present and future challenges to implementation efforts. Overall, the authors find that despite obstacles to the reform’s implementation, significant progress has been made and will continue in the years to come.

In 2008 the Mexican Congress approved an eight-year process to improve the criminal justice system, in a reform known as the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). The NSJP will replace the traditional mixed inquisitorial justice system with a more efficient adversarial model. The new system will be operational throughout the country by June 18, 2016.

Final Countdown for Implementation of the judicial reform

The authors find that state level implementation efforts were fairly limited up until 2013, and many states are still behind in the process considering the June 2016 deadline. This raises concerns about whether it is realistic that all states will meet the deadline, especially considering that only a little over half the municipalities in Mexico were in judicial districts operating under the new system as of mid-2015. Futhermore, the authors report that federal implementation of NSJP has been a much slower process plagued by delays and insufficient resources that took more than six years to officially begin. The authors note that although the Federal Judiciary Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF) developed a well-structured master plan that outlines three phases of implementation, it will be necessary to modify this plan in light recent challenges to the reform’s full dissemination throughout Mexico. However, the CFJ projects that by 2016 there will be at least one operating center in all of Mexico’s states.

The authors also find that the Peña Nieto administration has taken a more active role in the implementation of the new system in comparison to the previous administration. The Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB), responsible for the ensuring the implementation of judicial reforms, is working through the Technical Secretariat (Secretaría Técnica, SETEC) in order to augment incentives for states to continue the reform efforts. In 2014 and 2015 SETEC’s funding to Mexican states increased by more than four million dollars in comparison to the Calderon administration. Moreover, while there has been a vast amount of support for the judicial reforms across party lines in Mexico, there must also be continued collaboration between federal and state governments in order to preserve the progress of the NSJP.

The new oral, adversarial procedures in Mexico will involve a period of adjustment and learning, but in light of the significant progress made and to be made in the near future, there may be a diminishing emphasis on the NSJP as the sense of urgency diminishes in the years to come. As such, the authors put forth three policy recommendations that will help sustain its progress as well as support and evaluate the system: a) institutionalization of the change; b) professionalization of the judicial sector; and c) monitoring judicial system performance over the long term. As the reforms will be instituted across all thirty-two states, it is important to solidify the changes associated with the reform in order to avoid discord between the unitary and federal models. The new system outlines a series of checks and balances that regulate members of the judicial system, and it is therefore vital that there is sufficient funding to continue training programs for court officials. Finally, the progress of the reforms must be monitored over the long term in order to allow for the necessary policy and administrative adjustments in the justice system.

The Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico 2008-2016 is the third special report by Justice in Mexico on judicial reform. The study was made possible thanks to the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation and through the work of the Oral Advocacy Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) project funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) as part of the Mérida Initiative.

To read the full report, click here.

Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report)

2015 Drug Violence in Mexico-Portada

On Wednesday, April 28, 2015, Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2015 report entitled “Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report)”.

Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report)

Thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this is the project’s sixth annual study on organized crime and violence in Mexico. As in previous years, this report compiles the latest available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

This year’s report builds on past findings and seeks to provide new insights into Mexico’s recent security situation. The authors draw on the latest available data from multiple sources, with a primary emphasis on the first two years in office for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). In contrast to his predecessor, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), President Peña Nieto appeared to deliberately downplay Mexico’s security problems, while at the same time moving aggressively to take out some of the country’s top drug traffickers, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and top leaders of the Zetas, Gulf Cartel, Knights Templar Organization, and other organized crime groups.

As noted by Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) analyst Maureen Meyer in a recent USA Today article on the report, while there is substantial evidence of a decline in certain forms of crime and violence associated with organized crime, the security situation in Mexico remains problematic. Despite a slight decline, kidnapping and extortion remain at elevated levels. The past year saw a series of security crises for the Peña Nieto administration, including the rise of vigilante self-defense forces in Michoacán, the extrajudicial killing of 20 civilians by the Mexican armed forces in the state of Mexico, and the massacre of dozens of student protestors in the state of Guerrero.

Extortion. Source: SNSP.

Extortion. Source: SNSP.

Kidnappings. Source: SNSP.

Kidnappings. Source: SNSP.


Among study’s most important findings is the apparent decline between 9-15% in homicides in 2014. The authors also found that between one third and half of all homicides in Mexico in 2014 were attributed to organized crime groups, which may signal a slight reduction in the proportion of such homicides. Meanwhile, even as the states of Jalisco and Mexico have emerged as new trouble spots in Mexico’s battle against organized crime there were dramatic reductions of violence in key cities, like Acapulco, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juárez.

Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report) was co-authored by Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk.

To read the full 46-page report (21.3 mb PDF), click here.

Justice in Mexico presents results of new study of Tijuana police

IMG_3569 On March 12, 2015 Justice in Mexico presented the results of its latest Justiciabarómetro survey, titled: Diagnóstico integral de la policía municipal de Tijuana (in Spanish), developed in collaboration with the Institute for Security and Democracy (Instituto para la Seguridad y Democracia, INSYDE), the Law School of the Autonomous University of Baja California (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, UABC) in Mexicali, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the University of Guadalajara (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG). The Tijuana survey builds on the findings of two similar studies conducted in Guadalajara in 2009 and Ciudad Juárez in 2011, and was implemented for Justice in Mexico by the polling firm Data Opinión Pública y Mercados (DATA-OPM) form Mexico. Like these previous studies, the Justiciabarómetro-Tijuana constitutes one of the largest independent studies of municipal police ever published in Mexico. Focusing on the border city of Tijuana, adjacent to San Diego, California, this is the largest survey conducted by an independent group of institutions with 1,917 participants with a minimum margin of error (+/- .87%) and a confidence interval of about 99%.

The report examines the views and opinions that predominate among the administrative and operational staff of the municipal police in Tijuana on various aspects related to their work. The survey inquires about the human capital and organization of the municipal police, including community relations and views of recent judicial reform efforts. Among the most relevant findings:

  • The average age of the police department is 38 years, and about 20% are female.
  • 25% have some level of higher education either undergraduate or graduate, 35.8% completed high school, 18.4% have not completed high school, 15.6% reported having completed secondary school and only 5.3% incomplete secondary or lesser degree. 56.6% report an income of less than 15,000 pesos (around $1,000 USD), and most of them (85.5%) believe it would be fair an increase of about 51%.
  • Officers note that they often have to buy their own equipment. Over 70% said they had to buy their own boots, over 60% say that have to buy their own uniforms, and many (43.3%) say that they do not receive equipment in a timely fashion.
  • A 77.7% believe that police in Tijuana has improved in the last ten years, and 42.8% believe that citizens evaluated the police with high scores.
  • Nearly 50% believe it is the citizens who foster corruption while 34.8% think it is citizens and police alike.
  • Respondents indicate that the major security problems in Tijuana are burglary (56.1%), low scale drug dealing (13.7%) and car theft (6.5%). The problems identified as easier for municipal police to resolve are burglary (23.6%), traffic accidents (15.8%) and gangs (14%). The most diffcult to resolve are kidnapping (24.8%), homicide (21.1%), drug trafficking (17.55).
  • 92.2% of the police say they do not have enough knowledge of the New Criminal Justice System, and 57.1% do not consider themselves ready to operate under the new system, which will be implemented nationwide in June 2016.

JusticiabarómetroIMG_0679 consist of a series of studies produced by Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego’s Department of Political Science and International Relations, which provides policy analysis and recommendations concerning the rule of law in Mexico, based on the opinions and experiences of the operators of the criminal justice system.  This survey was supported by the generous underwriting of the Open Society Institute. The Municipal Government of Tijuana and the Secretary of Public Security were supportive at all times facilitating access to the institution and its members, and providing the necessary logistical support. The study was coordinated by María Eugenia Suárez de Garay, David Shirk, and Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, along with other law enforcement and security specialists from Mexico and the United States.