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The Correction Systems: US and Mexico


The United States (U.S.) and Mexico are two large countries in North America, which shares several similarities and differences in various aspects. Geographically, both countries border each other; that is, U. S borders Mexico on the North. In the basis of security and criminology, corrections systems in U. S and Mexico are characterized by several similarities as well as various differences. Correction systems entail the correctional facilities in a state, such as prisons, and the correctional processes and practices applied against criminals (Kurian, 2006). This paper will be aimed at exploring the correction systems in U. S and Mexico, but first is a general background of Mexico, to help in understanding the country and its correctional systems.

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According to reports from the latest official census, the Mexican country has a population of about 111 million people. The country witnessed a decrease in population growth rate, from 3.5% in the year 1965 to 0.99% in 2005. The country’s life expectancy in 2006 was estimated at 74.5 years in 2006. The Mexican population is highly urbanized, with close to 75 percent of the population living in the cities. Among the urbanized areas in the country are the greater Mexico City, greater Monterrey, greater Puebla and greater Guadalajara (Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2009). These areas host 30 percent of the country’s population. Mexican migration patterns show that the south eastern and north western states of the country receives a considerable number of migrants annually.

However the country’s net migration has been observed to be negative, as a result of emigration of rural population to the United States. Mexico offers basic social services to its population, such as the universal free primary education. Socially the country is composed of Mayas, Olmecs, Toltecs and Aztecs cultures which have been highly developed in the recent past. On the religious perspective, Mexico accounts for no official religion. Reports indicate that the country is dominated by Christians, who accounts for 95% of the Mexican population (Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2009).

Roman Catholics accounts for 89% of the population, making it to host the second largest number of Roman Catholics, after Brazil. Mexican economy rides on a GDP of 1.143, according to 2008 estimates, whose annual growth rates was 1.4% as estimated in 2008. The economy relies on Natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas, agricultural products, industry, services and trade. Its main recipient of exports is the US, which reports indicate that in 2007, the US imported 82% of Mexican exports. Mexico is a member of the World Trade Union as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement (Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2009).

Corrections system Processes and Policy: Mexico vs. U. S.

The correction systems of countries differ in various aspects as illustrated by the British Journal of Criminology (Norman, 1962). For instance, the sentencing of the prisoners as conducted by the judges is not the same. Probation is another aspect used in scaling the correction system of a country. For instance, the ratio of probationers to that of prisoners, the quality of the officers conducting the probation, in terms of experience and training as well as the caseloads carried in the probations.

The architecture of the correctional facilities such as the size of the prisons and other facilities are used in the exploration of country’s correctional systems. Other important factors of consideration for a correctional system are how the correctional personnel is trained and selected, maternal and childcare for pregnant women prisoners and work by prisoners (Norman, 1962). Unlike in the US, order in the prisons is maintained through the daily decision of the officers in charge and common sense.

Amongst all the western nations, the United States is ranked as one of the countries with the highest per capita rates of incarceration. At the start of 2008 for example, more than 2.3 individual within the United States were incarcerated. For last 10 years, the population in the United States prisons has increased more than tree-folds (Kurian, 2006). Compulsory laws of sentencing policies, increased prison periods, along with a reliance on the prison system as the fundamental defense mechanisms against the committing of crime, have all acted to bring into being a prison system that was estimated to have costs the tax-payers a massive $ 49 billion, at the close of 2007.

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A project on the performance of public safety that was commissioned by PEW, which is a charitable organization, indicated that increased growth of the prisons system is anticipated to require an extra $ 25 billion at the end of 2011. At the moment, a majority of the states utilize more of the public resources on prisons facilities, when compared with such other sectors as education, health, as well as housing programs (Kurian, 2006). Currently, one in every 25 male citizens within the United States has been shown to be on parole, incarcerated, or even on probation, meaning that they are constantly under the watchful eye of the criminal justice system

In Mexico, the judiciary system is made up of the state as well as the federal system, and this bears a resemblance with a similar arrangement in the United States (Glaze & Bonczar, 2006). The jurisdiction of the federal courts entails a majority of the major felonies, such as the trafficking of drugs. Mexico’s penal system is made up of the state as well as the federal correction institutions. The federal district’s penitentiary happens to be the biggest federal prison in Mexico, with each of the country’s states boasting of an individual penitentiary.

The prisons in Mexico are characterized by chronic overcrowding of the inmates. The absences of enough trained guards, coupled with a mistreatment of prisoners have only made the situation worse. There is also the issue of sanitary facilities that are quite inadequate, further compounding an already bad situation (Glaze & Bonczar, 2006).

One of the reasons that have been given as to why there are many inmates in the prisons in Mexico is as a result of the hard stance that this country has, with regard to drugs.

Further, there is also a difference with respect to the penal philosophies that are exhibited by the prisons systems in the United States on the one hand, and that of Mexico, on the other hand (The Pew Centre, 2008). For one, an invariable exchange is present between the community and the prisoners. In addition, the functionality of the prison systems in Mexico is such that they lack either policy systems or programs, unlike their United States counterparts. Also, the prisons in Mexico do not have in place classification committee, operations memoranda, or even institutional disciplinary committees.

In these overcrowded prison that now characterize the correctional system in Mexico, the maintenance of order is achieved, thanks to the combinations of common sense, customs, as well as the everyday decisions that are arrived at by the prisons authorities. Prisoners in Mexico are often left alone to both conduct and organize their individual lives (Barak, 2000), unlike the situation in the United States, where counseling sessions and therapy are a part of the rehabilitations program.

Prisoners within Mexico are not coerced to work, to surrender personal possession, or even made to work. This is contrary to the correction systems in the United States, whereby the prisons have to surrender their individual possession once they have been incarcerated (Barak, 2000). A recording of their possession is then taken, and they are usually refunded once their term in prison is over, or once they have been paroled. Cases of violence in Mexican prisons are also not as violent, as those reported in the United States, with a majority of these normally being restricted to only several fistfights.

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  1. Cases of homosexuality are also not to the levels that are reported in the United States. In addition, there have also been reported cases of mutual trust that has over the years developed between on the one hand, the guards and on the other hand, the inmates. Hostility, apathy, and alienation, which are more common within the corrections facilities in the United States, are extremely rare in the prisons within Mexico (Stirewalt, 2001). More often than not, the experience that prison gains while incarcerated ends up improving their conduct as well.
  2. In recent years however, the prison facilities in Mexico have appeared to fall short of the human rights conditions, as per the requirements of CNDH (National Commission for Human Rights). In a report that was concerned with prison supervision, and which was released by the organization in November, 2008, the report noted, “for the third consecutive year” Chiapas, along with 7 other states, “has failed [to meet] conditions” (p. 1), as regards human rights. Further, the CNDH also opined that “the dysfunctional prison system in the majority of the country is one of the weakest parts of public security” (p. 1).
  3. The Chiapas prison for instance, was once again in February this year characterized by hunger strikes, from prisoners who ran into several dozens. The hunger strike came into being over what the inmates termed as gross abuse of human rights conditions. This resulted in the Mexican government having to release a total of 300 prisoners, 41 of which were among those that went on the hunger strike (Gibbs, 2009).

The story of the conditions in Mexican prison is perhaps best exemplified by the ordeal that Terry Kennedy, who together with Dawn Marie Wilson, were released in December 2004, having spent 18 months incarcerated in a Mexican prison. According to Wilson, who had been incarcerated at Ojos Negros prison facility, located just outside of Ensenada, in Mexico, “It was an incredibly painful experience,” (San Diego News (2009). His fiancé, on the other hand, had been charged and imprisoned for being in possession of prescription drugs that were not authorized.

Wilson notes that inside the prisons where she was to serve her five-year jail term, prostitutions was rampant, in addition to poor sanitation, for example, showers were lacking, and toilets would not flush. Besides, the facility lacked running water, and cockroaches were in large number (San Diego News (2009). By contrast, the prison facilities in the United States are a lot cleaner, with much improved sanitation conditions.

In the United States, incarceration appears to be more of a concurrent power, usually safeguarded by the country’s constitution. The implication then is that the operation of the prisons is under the close scrutiny of state and federal governments. According to (Glaze & Bonczar, 2006), the United States at the moment ranks as the leading country with the largest number of incarcerations rates that have thus far been documented. This is in addition to the number of inmates that have also been documented worldwide.

By the end of 2007, a total of 7.2 million individual are believed to have been in prison, on parole, or on probation (The Pew Centre, 2008).There is a striking similarity of the prisons conditions in the United States, with those in Mexico, such as the type of medical care that the inmates usually receives (The Pew Centre, 2008), and which is usually pathetic. Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization, has voiced its concern regarding this issue, along with increased cases of rape in prisons.

Prison Journal undertook a survey that involved a total of 1,788 male inmates, from a number of prisons within the prisons located in the Midwestern region. 21 percent of the respondents to this research study reported that their had either been pressured or forced to engaging in sexual activities during their incarceration period., with a further 7 percent of the respondents asserting that even in new facilities, they had also been raped.

Prison Management/Administration

The correction systems has lately been faced with tough decisions to make, as regards the issue of prisons management, while at the same time also ensuring that the inmates, the public, and also the members of staff at the various prisons facilities, remains safe. One of the greatest challenges that now face the corrections systems in Mexico is a burgeoning in the number of inmates (Barak, 2000). Consequently, this has resulted in an increase in the budget for running the prison system, even as the available resources continue to dwindle.

Furthermore, a limited in terms of the available facilities for the prisoners, such as beds, is also an added burden. It is now estimated that out of very 100,000 members of the general population, this accounts for a total of 191 inmates (The Pew Center, 2008). What this means is that the mental facilities in Mexico are now at the moment overstretched, at more than 125 percent of their normal capacity (Gibbs, 2009).

This is a clear indication of poor and skewed, with the result that those Mexicans that are marginalized ends up as the major culprits. The congestion on Mexicans prisons is so bad that prisons cells that are normally meant to house only 5 inmates, ends up taking as amnesty as 20 (Gibbs, 2009). Consequently, prisons in Mexico have now turned into breeding grounds, literary, of many of the civic abuses, such as ethics discrimination, and sexual outrages.

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Punishment and Corrections Foundation and Background

For a United States citizen who is in a foreign land, they are often subjected to the regulations and laws of their mother country. Usually, such rules and regulations will vary greatly from the one to be found in the United States. On the other hand, Mexican trial processes of offenders differ from that of the United States. In addition, the correction systems procedures shall also differ from one state to the next. Penalties that accompany the breaking of the law by citizens of the United States may very well become extremely severe, for those offenses that are related (Glaze & Bonczar, 2006).

For those individuals that usually violate the laws of Mexico, even when this happens without their knowledge, the result is that they may be arrested, or even incarcerated. Possession of, along with the trafficking of drugs that have been labeled illegal is an offense that is perceived as extremely severe, in Mexico, culminating in prolonged jails terms, if not heavy fines (Starke, 2006).

The facilities that are found in Mexican prisons could be tremendously poor. Amongst a majority of the prison facilities in the county, the quality of foods given to the inmates is inadequate, both in terms of quality as well as quantity. Additionally, prisoners are usually forced to pay using their personal finances, in order that they may have access to an adequate nutrition (Starke, 2006).

The type of medical care that is provided by a majority of the prisons facilities in Mexico is extremely poor. In addition, even those prisoners in a dire need of either constant or urgent medical care, ends up receiving just the basic minimum forms of medical care. Citizens of the United States that are usually incarcerated within the prison facilities in Mexico have no choice but to pay a heavy price, financing, usually in the form of ‘protection money’ (The Pew Centre, 2008), so that they do not face the wrath of fellow prisoners. This is not the case with the Mexican prisoners in the United States prison facilities.

Death penalty

Currently, the congress within Mexico has reached a unanimous decision to address the possibility if capital punishment for some of the crimes, being reinstated (Gibbs 2009). This has been occasioned by a rise in kidnappings and murder cases within the country, a majority of which bears a connection with organized crime and drug cartels. In 205, capital punishment was abolished in Mexico, although recent surveys indicate that more than two thirds of Mexicans (70 percent) still prefer the death penalty being reinstated.

Nevertheless the amendment of the constitution to make an allowance for capital; punishment being reinstated, seems rather remote. The government, human rights groups and the church as well, are all opposed to the reinstatement of the death penalty, in a strong way (Gibbs 2009). For a long time now, Mexico has voiced its concern at international forums, that capital punishment be abolished. In effect, no single execution has been carried out in Mexico, since 1961 (Gibbs 2009).

However, a lot of Mexicans are horrified at the escalation in the levels of insecurity within the country, forcing the government to think about possible ways of attempting to control these. In contrast, at total of 37 states in the United States had authorized the Death Penalty, by April 1, 2008, while 13 states are amongst the jurisdictions that are yet to authorize capital punishment (Gibbs, 2009).

Contemporary Issues in Punishment and Corrections

What this contemporary research indicates that there are similarities that are commons between the corrections system in the United States, and those in the Mexican prisons. In addition, studies have also indicated that the corrections system in Mexico is not in favor of the death penalty, although an increasing number of Mexicans prefer it, owing to the rise in crime levels. On the other hand, there are a total of 37 states in the United States that have authorized the death penalty, while the rest are yet to authorize it (Glaze & Bonczar, 2006).

There is a need for the justice system Mexico to address the high level of congestions that characterizes the prisons. One way of doing this is by way of embracing community service, in which minor offenders undertake community service for a given number of hours, instead of being imprisoned. Another way is to have less serious offenders put on probation. The encouragement of a social bond between inmates and the guards in the correction facilities in Mexico is beneficial, in that the inmates do not view the guards as their enemies, but helpers rather, and whose intention is to facilitate their smooth transition in the corrections facility. Another benefit of the corrections system in Mexico is the fact that the prisoner and the community share a positive relationship (Barak, 2000). This is important, in order to build trust amongst the members of the community that indeed, the inmates have a chance to reform.


Barak, G. (2000). Crime and crime control: a global view. London: Sage.

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. (2009). Applying for presidential permits for border crossing facilities (Mexico). Fact Sheet. Web.

Gibbs, S. (2009). Mexico to rethink death penalty. BBC News, Mexico City Friday, 23.

Glaze, L. E., & Bonczar, T. P. (2006). Probation and parole in the United States. U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Kurian, G. T. (2006). World encyclopedia of police forces and correctional systems. (2nd Ed). New York: Thomson Gale.

Norman, S. H. (1962). Correctional Systems and National Values. British Journal of Criminology, 1962 3: 163.

The Pew Centre (2008). One in 100: behind bars in America 2008.

San Diego News (2009). San Diegan Describes Mexican Prison Experience. Web.

Starke, S. (2006). COHA’s Report on Mexico’s Prison System: Yet Another Blemished Aspect of Fox’s Failed Presidency. Web.

Stirewalt, W. T. (2001). Mexico’s Prisons Deserve Emulation. Journal of corrections, 7(6): 45-48.

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