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All FSI Publications Journal Articles American Political Science Review Volume 114 Issue 4

Institutionalized Police Brutality: Torture, the Militarization of Security, and the Reform of Inquisitorial Criminal Justice in Mexico

How can societies restrain their coercive institutions and transition to a more humane criminal justice system? We argue that two main factors explain why torture can persist as a generalized practice even in democratic societies: weak procedural protections and the militarization of policing, which introduces strategies, equipment, and mentality that treats criminal suspects as though they were enemies in wartime. Using a large survey of the Mexican prison population and leveraging the date and place of arrest, this paper provides causal evidence about how these two explanatory variables shape police brutality. Our paper offers a grim picture of the survival of authoritarian policing practices in democracies. It also provides novel evidence of the extent to which the abolition of inquisitorial criminal justice institutions—a remnant of colonial legacies and a common trend in the region—has worked to restrain police brutality.