Only 1% of crimes are punished in Mexico

Unsolved crimes are piling up in Mexico.
Unsolved crimes are piling up in Mexico.
Image: Reuters/Margarito Perez Retana
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For criminals in Mexico, the cost-benefit analysis of killing, stealing or paying off government officials is a no-brainer.

The vast majority of crime—93%—is not even reported due a lack of trust in the authorities. Of the cases that are filed, less than 5% result in convictions. So overall, the chance of paying a penalty for breaking the law is 1%, the University of the Americas Puebla (UDLAP) calculated in a new report.

The figure is part of a list of statistics, including the size of the staff at attorneys general offices and the incarceration rate for certain crimes, that researchers have compiled into an impunity index. Mexico’s national score of 75.7 on a 100-point scale trails only the Philippines among the 59 countries with enough data to be analyzed.

Within Mexico, the study found impunity is widespread, observable across all states and ingrained in both the law enforcement system and the courts. The index runs noticeably higher in states near the US-Mexico border, where drug-cartel activity is more concentrated, and in Guerrero, where 43 students disappeared in 2014. The case remains unsolved.

As violent crime continues to roil Mexico despite government efforts to fight it, pundits and social scientists are focusing on impunity as the root cause for the country’s troubles. (In one alarming sign of the justice system’s inability  to punish crime, lynchings are on the rise.)

“Impunity is what leads to violence,” Luis Ernesto Derbez, UDLAP’s president, told a Televisa newscaster. “People say, ‘If there are no consequences, I can do whatever I want.’”

Mexico fares worse than most countries in many of the categories examined in the report. It has only 20 cops per 100 inmates, compared with an average 47 in the other countries that were studied. Its ratio of judges to population size, at 4.3 judges per 100,000 inhabitants, is among the world’s lowest.

The study offered a long list of recommendations to improve Mexico’s dismal justice record.  Among them: promoting and protecting free press and opening up the government’s data coffers. A bigger budget for attorneys general offices was also found to help.