Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mexican incarceration rate one fifth that of Texas, but growing

Richard Grabman at The MexFiles has some interesting crime stats from the Mexican Health Secretary that he compared to Texas' data, but as I pointed out in the comments to his post, the Texas stats were a bit off. Let's update them, however, because Grabman is pursuing a very interesting and important train of thought based on data published in the July 15 issue of Milenio. He wrote:
No wonder Texas wants to violate international court orders, and execute foreigners. With a total population of 23,507,783 (2006 estimate), the number of state prisoners is 71,812. There are also about 9,000 in the various Federal detention centers in the state (and no figures on the numbers in contract concentration camps for aliens). Mexico, with a population of 120,000,000 has a total of 217,457 prisoners in the 442 institutions, which include six federal facilities.
Grabman's miscalculations suffered in part from using faulty data. The number he cites for Texas state prisoners (71,812), is actually the figure for how many people are incarcerated in Texas county jails. To that figure should be added the number in state prisons - around 155,000, give or take - bringing the total incarcerated in Texas to more than 226,000 people, or more people in absolute terms than the entire nation of Mexico!

I also think a true apples to apples comparison would require modifying the denominator. Only adults can go to jail or prison, so those under 18 shouldn't be included in the comparison stat. So subtracting the 27.6% of Texans who are under 18, the real Texas figures would be as follows: Texas incarcerates 1.33% of its total adult population.

By contrast, Mexico incarcerates 217,457 people in a nation of 120 million. But again, we must adjust the denominator. I couldn't find apples to apples stats, and I don't know at what age Mexicans are eligible to go to prison, but according to this source 32% of Mexicans are under 15 years old. Comparing the prison population only to those 15 years old and older (approximately 81.6 million), Mexico incarcerates .27% of its adults

In other words, Mexico's adult incarceration rate is approximately 1/5 that of the state of Texas.

Even though Mexico incarcerates people at a much lower rate than the United States, the country currently is experiencing a period of rapid prison growth, with the number of people incarcerated having increased 40.5% since 2000 (from 154,765 in 2000 to 217,457 in 2008).

Of Mexico's low incarceration rate, Richard says "I haven’t come up with any definitive theory to explain it." He offers this observation, though, that certainly is a contributing factor:
In the U.S., every anti-social act is made a crime, and people turn to the police to handle criminal matters. Mexicans, by and large, don’t trust the police (and never have, at least not for the last 400 or so years), seeing them as protectors of the status quo and of wealth, and not of the people. And anti-social acts are dealt with informally.
What's more, mass incarceration for nonviolent offenses is a rich country's hobby; poor nations like Mexico simply could never afford to manage social problems like alcoholism and drug use solely through the justice system because of the massive expense. In fact, the United States is rapidly reaching the point where we can't afford it, either.

RELATED: Crime and Punishment in Mexico: The big picture beyond drug cartel violence

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"seeing them as protectors of the status quo and of wealth, and not of the people"

I've come to realize recently that is exactly what our criminal justice system does. Clarence Darrow said:
"FIRST AND LAST, IT'S A QUESTION OF MONEY. THOSE MEN WHO OWN THE EARTH MAKE THE LAWS TO PROTECT WHAT THEY HAVE. THEY FIX UP A SORT OF FENCE OR PEN AROUND WHAT THEY HAVE, AND THEY FIX THE LAW SO THE FELLOW ON THE OUTSIDE CANNOT GET IN. THE LAWS ARE REALLY ORGANIZED FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE MEN WHO RULE THE WORLD. THEY WERE NEVER ORGANIZED OR ENFORCED TO DO JUSTICE. WE HAVE NO SYSTEM FOR DOING JUSTICE, NOT THE SLIGHTEST IN THE WORLD."

He was right. Think about how many of the laws we pass seem to be a good idea but have a disproportionate affect on the poor and serve to protect the wealthy. For example, the city where I live started impounding cars of people who are caught without insurance. At first I thought this was a good law. People should act responsibly. Then I thought, who will this law effect? It will affect the single mother who can barely afford the rent let alone insurance but must have a car to get to work. Then we will make it harder on her by imposing additional fines and impound fees. People who can afford insurance will not be affected. This law is designed to protect the property of those who can afford insurance from those who can't. Next consider the fact that drug crimes (often committed by people of lower socioeconomic status) are investigated and prosecuted much more agressively than white collar crime (usually committed by the middle and upper class). I criminal justice has essentially become an instrument with which the rich and powerful opress the poor and the weak. At least in Mexico law enforcement is more honest about their dishonesty.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, Mexico's adult incarceration rate is approximately 1/5 that of the state of Texas."

And look how low the crime is in Mexico, will ya? And what a liveable country it is for the aveage folk?

If'n you don't count the thousands of street drug executions this year alone in Mexico, then you can easily see in my skewed liberal logic that Mexico is making a much better country by only imprisoning 1/5 as many folks as Texas.

Great logic, Scott. By the way, if you ever need money to move to Mexico, I'll pay for the bus tickets for you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:17 - feel free to deposit money for tickets via Paypal. I'd love to visit Mexico on your dime.

Also, have you ever been to Mexico? It's an incredibly "liveable country ... for the aveage [sic] folk," IMO much more so than here.

There are plenty of countries with lower incarceration rates than we have who also enjoy much lower crime rates than the United States, but that wasn't the point of this post. Not that you care, I'm sure.

Otherwise, you're a fool and your comment is entirely nonresponsive to what I wrote. All I did was compare the data (or rather, correct Grabman's math in his comparison), not say which was better. The rest is just you spewing bile and ill will and has nothing to do with anything I've written.

Anonymous said...

After what I have personally experienced with the Smith County criminal justice (so called) system in the last year I think I would have been better off in Mexico. Anyone who thinks the criminal justice system in this country is fair and impartial and that you can expect to find truth in a courtroom in this country needs to think again.

doran williams said...

I'm with Anon 7:17 on this one.

It is vitally important that Texans do everything necessary to maintain out mystique of being No. 1! And particularly with regard to Mexico. It would be a shame we could never live down if Mexico ever out-does Texas in anything at all, including incarceration rates. We are ahead on that now, and our great Legislature and Judiciary are working night and day to keep us ahead.

We are also working hard to put Texas ahead in the poverty sweep-stakes. Mexico has an edge on us now, but -- again with help of the Texas Legislature and loyal Texans in Congress -- Texas is gradually closing that gap and we can expect to be ahead of Mexico soon.

As for the "livability" factor -- that is nonsense. We have a fine, authoritarian, semi-oligarchy in Texas which functions well to keep people in line, or in prison if they don't stay in line. Who really cares if living is easier in Mexico? A REAL Texan, not one of Grits' typical bleeding heart liberals, exults in the harshness of our justice and economic systems, the meaness and stratification of our social system, and the near-vacuity of our culture. Adversity makes good citizens.

So, Anon 7:17, I will join with you in contributing to a send-off of Grits south of the border, where he obviously will be happier than he is in Texas. Just let us know the amount of your contribution and when you make it, and I will match it. (This being Texas, I'll have to get a confirm and verify about your contribution before making mine.)

Sam said...

Yes, but Mexico has gang wars running in the streets of Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere. Are they better than we are because they have less of a % of their adult population incarcerated?

Remember what Benjamin Disraeli said and Mark Twain reported. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

doran williams said...

Sam, I just hate having to point out the obvious, but prison is exactly the place for the really bad guys: The murderers, big time drug financiers, big-time corrupt politicians, people who assault others with weapons, people who beat-up children and such as that. It is not necessarily the best place for a lot of other offenders. For instance, the Texas prison population includes far too many non-violent offenders, and not nearly enough corrupt politicians. I suspect that if so many offenses were not categorized as felonies, and if so many possessory offenses were not even crimes, and if some offenses were recognized as medical problems, the Texas prison population would much less than it is today. That might translate into lower state and local taxes taken out of your very own pocketbook.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sam, where did I write that Mexico is "better than we are because they have less of a % of their adult population"? I corrected another blogger's math error, I didn't say Mexico's justice system is something we should replicate. That doesn't mean it's not important for Texans to pay attention to what goes on there.

What a complete red herring. Try to focus.

rage said...

7:17 and 7:52:

And who supports the drug gangs that are so violent in Mexico?

Americans. Because we're their market.



I've been to Mexico plenty of times. I'd rather have a slightly higher crime rate than have federal troops on street corners with machine guns, like they have.

Many shops also have private "security," sometimes with automatic weapons as well.

What I don't like is that even with a somewhat higher crime rate, we have an insanely higher rate of incarceration. And we thought Mexican prisons were bad...

doran williams said...

Rage, you don't understand satire, sarcasm and snark, do you?

rage said...

Aw Hell, I just read where you said "I'm with numbnuts," stopped reading, and threw you in with my response.

Anonymous said...

Actually the crime rate there is comparable to what we hav here. You people believe Fox News far too much. Yep, sad to say Bill O'rielly has definitely not wasted his lies on that guy..

Yes, there are drug wars in Mexico in border cities, but there are drug wars in the US as well. Look at Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta. Tell me again how these places are the land of milk and honey. Shoot, I'd move to Mexico in a heartbeat, an ex-army officer would make a ton of money there consulting with the Mexican military.

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