Towards a safer Latin America: A new report on crime

In the last decade, Latin America and the Caribbean’s average homicide rate has been higher than that of any other region of the world. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the number of homicides in the region has increased by 11 percent, registering more than 100,000 homicides per year and causing the death of more than 1 million people as a result of criminal violence.
In addition, almost one-third of Latin American citizens identify insecurity as the greatest threat to their welfare—over other challenges such as education, health, and unemployment. At the Brookings Global-CERES Economic and Social Policy in Latin America Initiative (ESPLA), we aim to raise the discussion around such important issues as crime. In fact, on April 28, ESPLA and CAF- Development Bank of Latin America will co-host an event on Latin American crime, new trends, and policies to combat this growing problem.

Recently, CAF released a report entitled, Towards a safer Latin America: A new perspective for crime prevention and control, which seeks to open spaces for reflection and debate for the design and implementation of better public policies in the area of safety. The report delves into the incentives of crime for individuals; trends in major crimes such as drug trafficking; the human and social costs of crime; and the successes and failures of the criminal justice system. Among many fascinating and important trends, the authors find that:

  • Early education and interventions focused on both children and parents have been demonstrating results in lowering delinquency.
  • Distrust in government and crime have a cyclical relationship: People become less likely to participate in institutional mechanisms for justice, which makes the justice system harder to provide security.
  • Incarceration and increasing punishment severity could reduce crime, but that might not be the case when it comes to juvenile delinquency. The more deterrence, the more effective crime control policies will be. However, the certainty and severity of punishment depend on the police, the prosecution, the judicial system and the correctional institutions. When one link of the criminal justice system is weak, the whole chain suffers.
  • Socioeconomic factors alone can hardly explain crime. Rather, it is worth complementing them with more specific geographical analysis (in order to understand the large variability in crime rates, within neighborhoods, urban areas, and even city blocks). Understanding the special patterns of crime is crucial to implement targeted space-based prevention strategies to prevent crime opportunities.
  • Insecurity has an influence on government action mainly when it is perceived to have electoral or political implications—and crime has different effects on elections across the levels of government.

The blistering growth of crime and the undermining trust among citizens and public authorities has had (and will continue to have) a tremendous negative impact on the social, economic and political front. Inarguably, it has become one of the main obstacles to development. We hope that you can join us on April 28 for this important discussion, which will touch on many of the points noted above as well as policies to combat them. You can register for the event here.

[1] UNDP (November 2013), “Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America”, Regional Human Development Report.