Torture as a Method of Criminal Prosecution: Democratization, Criminal Justice Reform, and the Mexican Drug War

A criminal trial is likely the most significant interaction a citizen will ever have with the state; its conduct and adherence to norms of fairness bear directly on the quality of government, extent of democratic consolidation, and human rights. While theories of repression tend to focus on the political incentives to transgress against human rights, we examine a case in which the institutionalization of such violations follows an organizational logic rather than the political logic of regime survival or consolidation. We exploit a survey of the Mexican prison population and the implementation of reforms of the justice system to assess how reforms to criminal procedure reduce torture. We demonstrate that democratization produced a temporary decline in torture which then increased with the onset of the Drug War and militarization of security. Our results show that democracy alone is insufficient to restrain torture unless it is accompanied by institutionalized protections.

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