¿Dónde están los datos?: New Working Paper

06/30/20 — Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released a working paper by Héctor Esteban García García entitled, “¿Dónde están los datos? Reflexiones, conclusiones y retos en la compilación de indicadores de desempeño del Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio.” The study is a result of the #encifras project that compiles a series of indicators curated by Justice in Mexico as part of the “Justicia en Marcha” initiative to measure the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA). Specifically, it analyzes the process of collecting such information and the conclusions that can be drawn from the data. It then highlights the challenges that the SJPA faces and offers several recommendations on ways to strengthen the system’s evaluation process. The results suggest that although some information is sufficiently shared, there is room for improvement. If tracking and reporting was completed on time and in full, it could ultimately strengthen the functioning of the SJPA.

García García describes the complex process employed to gather information related to the functioning of the SJPA. This consisted of identifying 49 indicators that could be used to track the use of specific penal system tools. This included indicators that reflect acts from the crime reporting stage, those that occurred during mediation or restorative justice when the case is not funneled through the whole judicial process, and those that occurred during the court stage (e.g., investigations initiated, oral trials, and courtroom sentences). He drew information on these indicators from 77 public documents spanning 20 Mexican states. He also conducted a series of information requests from the 33 attorney generals or public prosecutor’s offices, and from the 33 judiciaries (both state and federal). Additionally, from April 2018 to July 2019, García García filed requests, which led to 309,141 pieces of data submitted pertaining to the SJPA between 2012 and 2019. This allowed Justice in Mexico to create a robust dataset from which he could analyze the SJPA.

The working paper analyzes who actually shared information, from where, when, and in what quantity. Ultimately, 73% of attorney generals and public prosecutor’s offices and 76% of judiciaries submitted the requested data. Because a quarter of respondents did not share disaggregated information, the author had to aggregate the information using the common denominator to standardize the indicators. By lumping the indicators all into one state-wide yearly total, as 25% of the states did, this prohibits one from analyzing the SJPA’s functioning at the judicial district level based on each indicator. This ultimately hampers one’s ability to evaluate the SJPA and to make necessary improvements or modifications to strengthen the system.

The author also noted that on average, respondents only submitted 74% of the information that was requested. States in the north, south, and southeast of Mexico reported more information than those in central Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Five states – Campeche, Durango, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Quintana Roo – submitted 100% of the information requested, whereas Guerrero and Querétaro only turned in about 10% each.

García García also highlighted the everchanging capacity and availability of judicial system operators to be able to respond to such information requests. Additionally, those that do respond oftentimes do not use consistent reporting mechanisms, thus making it difficult to analyze data trends over time. For example, the Aguascalientes’ Judiciary only reported 15% of information requested during the first solicitation, but jumped to 51% by the fourth. The State of México similarly increased from 30% reporting to 90% by the end. Other states’ reporting fluctuated, too, but in the reverse, going from higher reporting during the first few solicitations and dropping considerably over time.

Finally, the author noted that much of the data submitted was not detailed enough to allow for the sufficient evaluation of SJPA indicators. This included information pertaining to the use of pre-trial detention (prisión preventiva) and the lack of detail by some states on alternative justice methods used, such as mediation, reconciliation, and restorative justice, all of which are key components of the SJPA.

From the data collected, García García concluded several points about the SJPA’s use, functioning, and effectiveness throughout Mexico.

  • First, the data suggests that the tools that make up the penal system are more frequently used in northern, southern, and southeastern Mexico. When the tools are employed (e.g., oral trials, mediation), it results in quicker trials, reparation agreements, and ‘conditional suspension of the process’ (suspensión condicional del proceso), a special alternative justice procedure that suspends the process when the accused complies with a series of conditions and a reparation plan. The conditional suspension was ultimately found to be the most frequently used tool within the penal system nationwide.
  • Second, pre-trial detention (prisión preventiva) is still used in 38% of the cases when comparing it to the number of indictments reported (autos de vinculación a proceso). Pre-trial detention is used far more widely in some states (e.g., Michoacán, Sonora, Yucatán) than in others (e.g., Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Zacatecas). Still in 51% of the cases, pre-trial detention was mandated by law based on the crime (de oficio).
  • Finally, the information confirmed that oral trials were only used in about 11% of cases when considering the number of indictments reported. García García noted that this could be proof that one of the main objectives of the SJPA – to decrease the number of cases that go through to full trial – could actually be being achieved. Ultimately, the author concluded that judicial systems operators are not taking advantage of all of the penal systems’ tools.

Given the conclusions drawn from the data collected, García García identified three main challenges that face the SJPA.

  • The first he notes is making sure the National Transparency Platform (Plataforma Nacional de Transparencia) is functioning optimally. This platform is intended to be the avenue through which information requests are submitted and responded. Considering the inconsistencies and lack of comprehensive responses that the author received for this Working Paper, he highlighted the concern that civilians are being denied access to full information when they request it.
  • The second major challenge is the lack of instruments or avenues in place to guarantee that attorneys generals, public prosecutors, and judiciaries provide information when called upon. The author drew attention to the Unidades de Transparencia, or the governmental units that are intended to respond to these information requests, highlighting their limited operational capacities as a weakness in the system.
  • The third hurdle that faces the SJPA is the inconsistent reporting by states on penal system processes and tools, and the lack of accountability to ensure they properly and timely respond to information requests. In order to do so, the author suggests charging the Executive Secretariat of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP) or the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI) – two agencies who regularly work with data and information – with overseeing the tracking and management of SJPA data. He also suggests the Legislative Branch become more involved, specifically reforming an article in the General Transparency Law (Ley General de Transparencia), among others, that currently leaves the states’ obligation to disaggregate data somewhat ambiguous.

The author offered three key reflections at the conclusion of the Working Paper.

  • First, he reiterated that the data used for this publication was incomplete due to the fact that nearly one third of all respondents did not submit comprehensive or uniform information. Therefore, it was insufficient to fully evaluate the level at which SJPA tools are being utilized and employed.
  • Second, the data showed that some SJPA tools are indeed used more regularly than others, such as the conditional suspension. Meanwhile, the common use of pre-trial detention is concerning.
  • Finally, García García concludes that the challenges of reporting timely and complete data need to be overcome so that analyses of the SJPA can truly focus on improving the system’s functioning and efficiency.

About the Author:

Héctor Esteban García García is a Mexican lawyer native from Aguascalientes. He graduated from the School of Law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and is currently enrolled in a graduate program on Justice, Victims, and Peace Building at the National University of Colombia. He has collaborated with non-governmental organizations dedicated to human rights training and analysis of the criminal justice system in Mexico and has actively collaborated at UNAM’s Human Rights Program. Since 2016, he is a Research Associate at University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico. His academic and professional interests include criminal justice, transitional justice, and human rights.

New Justice in Mexico working paper: Forced Confessions: Tracking Torture and Mistreatment in Mexico’s Accusatorial Criminal Justice System

01/30/20- Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released a working paper by Rita E. Kuckertz, entitled, “Forced Confessions: Tracking Torture and Mistreatment in Mexico’s Accusatorial Criminal Justice System.” This study examines the impact of Mexico’s 2008 criminal justice reform on the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by judicial sector operators as prosecutorial tools. Specifically, it analyzes how the reform has served to reduce the practice of utilizing torture and mistreatment to extract criminal confessions by imposing new constraints and incentive structures to re-shape the behavior of judicial actors. It employs data from two sources in order to determine whether or not the implementation of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (SJPA) has resulted in a reduced incidence of torture and mistreatment by judicial sector personnel. The results suggest that the reform can indeed be credited for small but meaningful reductions in torture, mistreatment, and forced confessions in Mexico.

The author hypothesized that the reform would be associated with decreased levels of torture in the judicial sector. Specifically, this study presumed that high subnational SJPA performance scores would be associated with reduced rates of torture by judicial sector officials in those states. Additionally, it was predicted that following the reform’s municipal implementation, detainee reports of torture and forced confessions would decline at a national level. While this research also hypothesized that states with higher SJPA performance scores would demonstrate greater reductions in reports of torture and forced confessions following implementation, it was not possible to confirm this conclusion due to insufficient data.


Figure 3: CNDH Complaints of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment against Judicial Sector Operators per 1 Million Inhabitants (Average 2015-2018)

Figure 4: CNDH Complaints of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment against Judicial Sector Operators per 1 Million Inhabitants (2018)

Data sources: CNDH National Alert System, CONAPO

Still, result of the author partially confirmed the geographic hypothesis outlined above. Annual correlation and regression analyses between state reform performance scores and state-level rates of torture and mistreatment complaints against judicial sector operators did not produce significant associations from 2015 to 2017. However, analyses employing 2018 data yielded a significant relationship between the two variables, suggesting that the reform’s consolidation over time has had a positive impact on human rights in Mexico’s judicial system. Furthermore, insignificant findings from 2015 to 2017 may be explained by factors unrelated to the judicial reform. While it was beyond the scope of the study to identify other variables affecting the relationship during this period, the author hypothesizes that increases in drug war-related enforcement measures may have played a role.

Furthermore, this study’s findings substantiated the temporal hypothesis with regard to torture. A chi-square test for independence revealed a significant reduction in the percentage of detainees that reported being subject to torture following the reform’s implementation at the municipal level. The temporal hypothesis examining forced confessions was partially confirmed, as a second chi-square test for independence revealed a marginally significant decrease in the percentage of sentenced detainees that reported being subject to a forced confession.

Figure 7: Results of Chi-square Test and Descriptive Statistics for Reports of Torture and Mistreatment by Presence of Municipal Reform Implementation at Time of Arrest

Figure 8: Results of Chi-square Test and Descriptive Statistics for Reports of Forced Confessions by Presence of Municipal Reform Implementation at Time of Arrest

Data source: ENPOL

While the observed reductions were relatively small (a 7.4% decrease in torture and a 5% decrease in forced confessions), these results nonetheless represent compelling evidence in favor of the SJPA’s impact on Mexico’s human rights situation. As the SJPA’s official implementation date fairly recently in 2016, there is still much work to be done to fully consolidate the reform’s mandates. As Mexico continues to progress toward the SJPA’s full and effective implementation, researchers should observe further reductions in the incidence of torture by judicial sector officials. This is supported by the results of state-level chi-square tests, which also showed large and significant reductions in the percentage of detainees reporting torture and forced confessions (39% reductions in torture in Baja California and Durango, 24% reduction in torture in Mexico City, 14% reduction in torture in Morelos, a 36% decrease in forced confessions in Mexico City, and an 84% reduction in forced confessions in Querétaro).

The author argues that regardless of these findings, the existing criminal justice reform may not be enough to address the epidemic of torture. Ms. Kuckertz posits that Mexico must also (a) improve official sources of data used to track cases of torture and mistreatment, allowing researchers to monitor the success of state efforts to reduce the practice; (b) explicitly and publicly condemn the practice, instituting appropriately severe penalties for those found guilty of such crimes; (c) establish strong protections for detainees and their families, banning the practice of detention without charge, or arraigo; and lastly, (d) remain steadfast in defending the criminal justice reforms amidst growing calls to revert to familiar judicial practices characteristic of one-party rule in Mexico. While these proposals are tied to Mexico’s broader challenges in addressing corruption, impunity, and capacity issues, they represent crucial steps toward the country’s democratic consolidation and the establishment of institutions that respect its citizens’ human rights.

About the Author:

Rita E. Kuckertz earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish with an emphasis in Latin American Studies from the University of San Diego in 2015. She is currently a candidate for the Master’s degree in International Relations, also from the University of San Diego. Her research primarily focuses on human rights and judicial reform in Latin America, with a particular emphasis on Mexico. She has served as Program Assistant and Operations Coordinator at Justice in Mexico for over four years.

New Working Paper: Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira

 

02/16/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – A new Justice in Mexico working paper by Laura Y. Calderón, entitled Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur, provides analysis on the elevated levels of violence directly impacting key Baja California Sur cities, Los Cabos and La Paz. Utilizing the latest information and statistics on this topic, Calderón found that much of the violence in Baja California Sur is linked to organized crime groups looking to control these key drug trafficking areas. The working paper further discusses the increase in violence linked to organized crime group rivalries and subsequent government action in these affected regions.

According to Calderón, Baja California Sur’s economy depends heavily on tourism and commerce. Historically, Baja California Sur is characterized by having some of the lowest rates of crime and violence in Mexico. The recent surge in violent crime over the last decade is connected to the region’s transformation into an important nexus for drug traffic operations in Mexico.

Since 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel has dominated the Baja California region- formally headed by drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chápo” Guzmán. Guzmán’s organization looked to remove other competing organized crime groups in the region. Their success in consolidating a territory monopoly caused a drop in violence while opening their access to the U.S. market. The arrest and extradition of Guzmán caused a significant shift in the structure of Sinaloa, initiating internal competition between regional Sinaloan leaders. Additionally, with major kingpins like Guzmán being targeted by Mexican authorities, other cartels in the area took this as an opportunity to gain power. A new organized crime group called the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (Jalisco New Generation Cartel, CJNG), headed by Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes is rapidly becoming the main competitor to the Sinaloa Cartel.

In response to the increased violence, Mexican authorities deployed soldiers to Los Cabos and La Paz in an attempt to lower the rates of homicides through military presence in important hotspots. This deterrence tactic required the cooperation of municipal, state, and federal forces. However, local law enforcement is often under-trained and minimally equipped to meet the challenge presented by organized crime. Overall, the militarization approach has not proven to be successful.

Calderón posits that the recent violence seen in Baja California Sur could be linked to the spillover effect from other violent states nearby. According to scholars, Miming Pan, Benjamin Widner and Carl E. Enomoto, negative economic growth of one state exacts a consequence on neighboring states, causing the crime rates to increase. Although the Sinaloa cartel continues to hold dominance over almost the entire state, excluding the contested cities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there is a strong internal struggle over the lack of partnerships and centralized leadership for the organization. Moreover, the increasing prominence of the CJNG continues to challenge Sinaloa for the largest, operating organized crime group in Mexico.

Given the salient information presented in Calderón’s working paper, it is important to note that most of the violence happening in Baja California Sur is amongst individuals involved in organized crime. Tourists should exercise caution, but also keep in mind that the number of tourists of being targeted is currently low. Meanwhile, Mexican authorities in Baja California Sur, including local law enforcement and public officials, must be willing to engage in transparent and informed dialogue. Collaboration will be key to protecting the general citizenry and tourist flows, an important source of revenue to the state of Baja California Sur.

 

Sources

Pan, M., Widner, B. and Enomoto, C. E. (2012), GROWTH AND CRIME IN CONTIGUOUS STATES OF MEXICO. Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies, vol 24: p 51–64.