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Doing time … Texas and Mexico

16 July 2008

Grits for Breakfast (see the comment below) corrects my data. I don’t have the data on the number of Mexicans in local jails, or in juvenile facilities, but it is still a much smaller percentage than in the U.S. Grits also cut through the shit, very nicely, noting that the U.S. can afford (or perhaps chose to spend its tax money on) criminalizing socially unacceptable behavior (like public intoxication or narcotics use) that is dealt with more informally in Mexico.

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.

In other words, about 3.4 percent of Texans are in the slammer, compared to 0.018 percent of Mexicans. The Texans have to move out the foreigners, even if it means violating several international agreements and risk further shredding of United States credibility around the world, just to make room and bring those numbers down somewhat.

Not that being in a Mexican prison is such great shakes. According to Health Secretary José Ángel Córdova Villalobos, seventy-five percent of Mexican convicts have AIDS. I got that figure from an article in Milenio (14-July… but lost the link somehow), and asked Scott Hensen, at “Grits for Breakfast” the well-respected Texas justice system website, if the Mexican figures sounded right to him.

He thought the AIDS claim may mean exposure to HIV virus. Given Córdova Villalobos’ reluctance to take the common sense steps against HIV used by his predecessor (Julio Frenk Mora), convicts may not have access to condoms. Mexicans, and Mexican convicts, are more likely to have sexual relations with persons of the same gender than north of the border, and there is more likelihood these relations are consensual than they are in U.S. prisons (where rape is a huge problem… not that prison rapes don’t also happen in Mexico) … and sex in prison is not forbidden. Mexico, like other civilized countries, allows for conjugal visits, including same-sex partners.

Scott also mentioned tattoos as a vector for spreading HIV: unclean needles. My assumption has always been that Mexicans don’t go in for tattoos nearly as much as people in the U.S. do, but I don’t know much about tattoos, or convict culture (come to think of it, I know more Mexicans who have been in U.S. prisons, than have been in Mexican ones), so I can’t speculate.

Mexico has traditionally had a relatively low HIV infection rate, so even if the Health Secretary is talking about HIV exposure, and not AIDS (the reporter may have gotten the story slightly wrong), it’s worrisome. But, even if exaggerated, it makes sense that the poorest, and sickest of Mexicans are the ones who end up in prison (just as they do anywhere else). As to the very low incarceration rate, I haven’t come up with any definitive theory to explain it.

A few thoughts, though. 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.

“Bribes” to the traffic cop punish the offending driver; annoying drunks get the crap kicked out of them by their cousin (I once saw an 80-year old man whipping — with his belt — his drunken grandson for shaming the family… in Mexico City, no less!), or restitution is made for theft, or the offender is run out of the town — or neighborhood.

There used to be (actually, there still is) an American who talked on the travel message boards about his apartment being robbed when he lived in Mexico City. He used to harp on Mexican dishonesty, and “cowardice” because his neighbors did nothing. I happened, accidentally, to hear rumors later about this American, from people who had worked with him and knew about this “robbery.” I can’t confirm it, but apparently, the landlord — at the neighbors’ request — removed the anti-social element from their midst.

In Cuernavaca, when I lived there, a homeowner who was tapping illegally in the water-main (to the detriment of his neighbors) found his front yard dug up and his water cut off. The aggrieved neighbors did not call the police, they called a backhoe operator.

AND… I once had a student who worked as a factor, and told about having to figure out how to handle the paperwork for a customer who needed to use his receivables as collateral on his own kidnapping. He had shorted his workers’ paychecks, and — again, rather than go to the law — they took an alternative dispute resolution method. They kidnapped the guy and held him until he worked out the payroll problem.

When I hear or see in the papers where somebody has been murdered — and it’s not obviously a narco-hit — I wonder if someone isn’t taking those alternative justice disputes to extremes. It happens.  But not with the approval of the State, and not in violation of international law.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 July 2008 11:00 am

    Actually the numbers you cite on Texas are only for those locked up in county jails. Another 155,000 or so are incarcerated in state prisons, meaning Texas has slightly more people incarcerated than all of Mexico!

    Last I saw, the stat was that 1 in 21 adult Texans are under control of the justice system at any given time, including those in prison, in jail, on probation and on parole.

  2. Mr. Rushing permalink
    17 July 2008 1:53 pm

    Yes, because we have it documented that we handle criminals via a justice system one way or another makes the US less civilized than say…

    Mexico where numerous amounts of their citizens illegally cross the border and stay for the rest of their lives. Why would anyone want to leave such a place where the mob handles the idea of Justice? I mean there were some states in the US where this once happened…

    If the wrong type of man committed a crime or was simply trying to use the whites only restroom, he was lynched….

    Oh yeah, mob justice doesn’t work that well does it?

    As far as the death penalty, you can’t convince me that the state can ban executions and still not order it as a punishment. You ever hear of life in prison? It essentially is the death penalty, only slower and more painful full of torture for the convict who took someonelse’s life or lives.

    Do I think that those people deserve a fair trial and a means to appeal based upon DNA evidence? Hell Yeah I do, and if hell were a real place and they were guilty, I would want them to burn too.

    The death penalty should be voluntary. It can only be a humane punishment this way. No one and I mean no one should ever be set free if they knowingly and have been proven to have murdered someone. This includes Illegal immigrants too. If they commit a crime while in the US, they should be held here for their punishment and then immidiately deported when his punishment is up (if it can be up). Don’t turn them back over to their home countries where they will once again try to sneak accross the border and back into the US.

    And yes, there should be a special drivers licences that would not register Illegal immigrants to vote in US elections as well. I am not against Illegal Immigration, but I am against the government’s road blocks that make it an insane issue.

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