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News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > Criminal Prosecution Policies in Mexico: A collaborative framework to tackle crime

Criminal Prosecution Policies in Mexico: A collaborative framework to tackle crime

In adversity, Mexican prosecutors collaborate with academia, civil society, and the private sector to shape Criminal Prosecution Policies, aiming to tackle unprosecuted crimes and reduce violence.
Shutterstock image 1040414509
Shutterstock image 1040414509

The need for a collaborative plan 

In Mexico, 96.3 percent of reported crimes go by without a proper response from the criminal justice system. While impunity is a complex and multifactorial issue that governments should address through different policy approaches, it is undeniable that Attorney General’s Offices (AGO) hold a protagonist role in the failing quarrel against it as the institution in charge of investigating and prosecuting crime.  

Then again, with constantly increasing workloads and resources ranging from limited to frankly scarce, as is the case of justice systems in Latin America, Mexican AGOs need a blueprint to define how to manage their responses towards unending crime strategically. This entails recognising that not all crimes are created equal, as they do not all have the same impact on society and investigating them does not require an identical amount of time and resources.  

In that sense, AGOs must decide how to define their priorities and how to best apply their limited resources while, at the same time, not ignoring the fact that even behind lesser offences, there are victims in need of justice. In sum, AGOs must define their objectives and answer the question: what should they prioritise and how? 

Since 2020, almost half of the 32 Mexican states AGOs have started to address this issue by adopting a new caseload management scheme to achieve otherwise inexistent, publicly defined objectives and establishing a consensus of investigative priorities. This change allows them to target the cases representing the most significant threats to society while achieving less resource-intensive solutions for low-impact crimes, such as petty theft or some cases of battery susceptible to an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. AGOs are adopting this paradigm change through the collaborative design of Criminal Prosecution Policies (CPP). 


What is a Criminal Prosecution Policy? 

A CPP is an instrument designed by Mexican AGOs in collaboration with bureaucrats, academia, civil society organisations, news media, and the private sector. It is used to establish the strategic objectives to achieve the investigation and prosecution of crimes, and the regulatory framework to bring about optimal results according to priorities and efficient use of institutional resources.  

In other words, CPPs represent a consensus of what AGOs should do and an understanding of how. While CPPs in Mexico are a relatively recent effort, with most published in 2021 and 2022, they are not new. Other countries have used similar documents which may receive different names, including the UK, Argentina, Australia and South Africa, and those instruments have inspired the way Mexican institutions design their own. Also, in the Mexican case, plenty of these efforts have been donor-funded interventions (United States Agency for Development (USAID) and the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) which shows the priority place that the Mexican fight against impunity and violence has in the agenda-setting of other countries. 


How are Criminal Prosecution Policies designed? 

AGOs with CPPs have followed different design processes. Nevertheless, through the analysis of the ones available in Mexico (from the states of Sonora, Coahuila, Zacatecas were analysed), it is clear that their cornerstone rests upon the participation of different sectors of the citizenry. In most of the public CPPs to date, there has been diverse forums where the AGOs invite representatives from different sectors and facilitate group dialogues so that the most pressing grievances get vented and find their way into the institutional priority setting.  

Furthermore, the design process also considers bureaucrats from the judiciary, the victims commissions, public defenders offices and police corporations so that the institutions can find ways to collaborate and come to agreements regarding the needs that priority cases entail, and to establish efficient courses of action to process the rest of the caseload.  

Once that all the information has been processed, usually by a third party such as local consulting firm, a formal document is published and made available to the public. AGOs provide access to their CPPs on their websites and even have printed as well as executive versions of them, as making them accessible to the population is a relevant aspect of these documents.  


How do criminal prosecution policies work? 

As mentioned, CPPs role is that of a compass or blueprint to define the course that the AGO should take regarding their efforts to investigate and prosecute crime. In that sense, CPPs establish strategic objectives and priority topics. Strategic Objectives are a way to establish an AGO’s high-level goals which seek to transcend the notion that the justice system’s purpose is to incarcerate people when it can function as a conflict transformation tool. 

For instance, Strategic Objectives can orbit around finding the optimal solution to each conflict, weakening specific criminal activities, recognising each institution’s role within the CJS, and becoming a more transparent institution. Each of which will be linked to specific activities, outputs, and outcomes to evaluate if the institution is actually fulfilling its proclaimed Strategic Objectives. 

Moreover, CPPs establish Priority Topics which are technical-political categories that allow the AGOs to understand their workload and act accordingly. For instance, Sonora’s CPP established Criminal Structures as a Priority Topic. This means that if an auto parts theft case is identified to be related to a criminal structure, it must be processed through specific rules where the main goal is not to convict the material actor of the theft but to dismantle underlying criminal groups or illicit markets. 


The future for Criminal Prosecution Policies in Mexico 

The available CPPs in Mexico are still in an implementation stage. Thus, it is impossible to ascertain their effectivity through comprehensive evaluations. Nevertheless, changes in the institutional structures of AGOs are taking place and are being powered through citizen collaboration in a space, such as criminal justice, which has been a historically closed one for society. This can only be a good thing and help to achieve more justice for the victims of crime, and hopefully in the future, reduce crime and the impacts it has on the lives of victims and perpetrators.


Author: Pedro Felisart, studying MA Governance, Development and Public Policy at IDS


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