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In this chapter we present the main questions that underlie this work: Why has incarceration exploded in Latin America, and why have policies of mass incarceration failed to reduce criminality. After reviewing the literature and describing the sources of data used, this chapter develops the theory of endogenous acceleration (i.e., the concept that prisons drive up crime because they breed the conditions for offenders to continue their criminal careers – either from inside prisons or when they come out), within a general context of deficient state deterrence and failed incapacitation policies. This chapter reviews different theoretical approaches to the problem, describes the main findings of our research and lays out the hypotheses and the social mechanisms that help to explain the current prison crisis. The chapter ends with a brief description of the data collected and a summary of each of the chapters that follow.
Chapter 2 describes our critical variable, prison population growth, with its trends and patterns. We present data for eighteen countries to document the rapid rise in the prison population and lend proof of its accelerated growth. The chapter analyzes whether the sharp increases resulted from flow (more people incarcerated) or from stock (longer sentences), and evaluates the consequences of each growth pattern. We then characterize the crimes committed by the inmate population (drugs, theft, homicide, etc.), and the type of felonies that were targeted by the criminal justice systems (police, prosecutors and judges). We conclude this chapter by examining the characteristics of inmates locked up in Latin American prisons, their profiles, sociodemographic traits, background, and upbringing.
Chapter 7 presents a description of daily prison life in order to evaluate prison environments and rehabilitation programs. Based on inmates’ self-reports from surveys, we analyze the depth and impact of overcrowding, the supply of basic services (food and health), rehabilitation and training programs (schooling and work inside prisons), health services, social life, and criminal networks. We show that the supply of goods and services in most prisons is deficient and creates profit opportunities for criminal networks; that most rehabilitation programs fail; and that preparations for reentry are very poor, contributing to high rates of recidivism.
Chapter 4 studies illegal drugs, a significant driver of crime and a central issue in Latin American politics and society. One in five inmates is incarcerated for drug-related crimes, and at least one in three uses drugs regularly inside prisons. This chapter examines the patterns of drug crimes, the revenue made from selling or transporting drugs, and the income offenders made prior to being arrested, as well as the use of drugs inside prisons (who supplies the drugs, how much is spent on drugs, who controls drug trafficking inside the correction facilities, and how big the illegal prison market is). We show that law enforcement overwhelmingly targets “easy to catch” drug-traffickers, while barely making inroads on dismantling illegal drug industries, and facilitates the replacement social mechanism. Prison has become an extreme punishment that has had only limited success in reducing the supply of illegal drugs.
We conclude with several observations on corrections and criminal policy. The final chapter has three short sections. We begin with a summary of findings and discuss their implications: mass incarceration has not solved the crime problem and may actually exacerbate it. Lastly, we offer several policy guidelines that may provide a road map to address the prison crisis in the region.
Chapter 5 analyzes the increase in the imprisonment of women and examines the growing and important role of females in the illegal drug business. Women live in separate facilities and have specific issues that deserve special examination. We show that females were incarcerated for similar felonies to their male counterparts, as they tried to take advantage of income opportunities offered by illegal drugs and property crimes. This largely explains their rapidly growing imprisonment rate. In addition, this chapter studies their criminal trajectories and violence in prison, analyzing patterns of victimization of women within prisons.
Chapter 9 reexamines our main claims by studying the so-called division between prison and the outside world. Penal populism claims: “Lock-in the criminals and throw away the keys,” yet the harsh reality has proven that this separation is a fallacy. The vast majority of inmates re-enter society after a few years, and all inmates have links with the outside world, producing negative externalities from imprisonment. This chapter shows that the boundaries between prisons and the outside world are blurred, that prisons are an integral part of life for hundreds of thousands in Latin America and affect the millions of relatives and friends who live outside prisons. Thus, there are active networks and channels of communication and exchanges that defy the concept of prisons as isolation centers. The chapter looks at several topics such as the effect of prison on families and recidivism, and concludes that separating large numbers of young people from the outside world has not impacted crime levels on the streets.
Chapter 6 examines the particular role of justice institutions in the incarceration wave that has yielded such a dysfunctional and overpopulated system. Our analysis focuses on arrests done by police, criminal prosecution, and trials in order to assess the types of cases that end up in criminal convictions, the type of evidence used to convict, and the role played by defense lawyers. We examine the overreliance on flagrancy detention, police and prosecutor collusion with crime, and corruption. This chapter shows that by targeting the most visible crimes, prosecutors process the easy cases, and judges rarely require high standards of proof as evidence to convict.
Chapter 8 explores violence and the inner organization of gangs. The declining provision of basic needs and poor infrastructure have led to the emergence of illegal markets within corrections. The control of these markets by gangs and small groups has contributed to the growth of criminal organizations that have shaped life inside prisons. Using different data sources, we show that these groups fight for dominance of the drug trade and other coveted goods inside prisons, and that they may use extreme violence to maintain control. This chapter studies the conditions under which violence may occur and its extent, the growing role of gangs in Latin American prisons, as well as the conditions that give rise to criminal governance.
This chapter presents our core argument – the close association of prisons and crime – and shows that more imprisonment may have increased criminality. It presents several hypotheses for the prison growth and studies the nature of policies enacted in response to the rise in criminality and which led to the prison explosion. We use an in-depth analysis of three representative countries: Colombia, Mexico, and Chile. We maintain that high turnover and the increased severity of punishment for very serious crimes account for the prison explosion, impacting critical living conditions within correction facilities throughout Latin America. We argue that prison growth has endogenously produced more crime on the streets because high inmate turnover has created large new cohorts who reenter society and rapidly reengage in criminal acts. We test this hypothesis by modeling a regression analysis of incarceration rates for property crime in order to prove that imprisonment has a delayed-lagged effect on property crimes, providing substantial evidence for the criminogenic effect of prisons.
This groundbreaking work examines Latin America's prison crisis and the failure of mass incarceration policies. As crime rates rose over the past few decades, policy makers adopted incarceration as the primary response to public outcry. Yet, as the number of inmates increased, crime rates only continued to grow. Presenting new cross-national data based on extensive surveys of inmates throughout the region, this book explains the transformation of prisons from instruments of incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation to drivers of violence and criminality. Bergman and Fondevila highlight the impacts of internal drug markets and the dramatic increase in the number of imprisoned women. Furthermore, they show how prisons are not isolated from society - they are sites of active criminal networks, with many inmates maintaining fluid criminal connections with the outside world. Rather than reducing crime, prisons have become an integral part of the crime problem in Latin America.