Crime and the role of different actors of the criminal justice system in Chile

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Student Research Reports, Summer 2016

Crime and the role of different actors of the criminal justice system in Chile

 One of the key aspects of my dissertation has to do with analyzing the determinants of urban crime. I recently completed a large review of the literature focused on the specific question about why crime, relative to other regions of the world, is very high in Latin America. Perhaps one of the most striking conclusions of that review is the small body of evidence that is available in this area. Regardless, every country is permanently adopting costly measures associated with crime control policies and in other areas that affect crime among the population.

Undoubtedly, one of the most significant challenges in the criminal research literature has to do with a clear understanding of the criminal justice system and what particular role each agency (should) play. In addition, many of the most promising research questions are increasingly demanding the use of high quality data. In that sense, the motivation for my recent trip to Chile was twofold. First, I wanted to have insights about the most important challenges in terms of crime control policies that are being taking place in the country. In addition, I met with specific governmental agencies in order to have access to administrative records regarding crime and criminal justice. 

The current particular context of Chile is also very interesting. It has the lowest homicide rate in the region and a considerable portion in property crimes such as robbery and larceny/thefts. Importantly, crime control policies are clearly a priority for the population. Indeed, many recent polls have consistently ranked crime prevention policies as the first priority for the government. However, as in many other countries in this region, the body of evidence seems to be decoupled from this high level of attention the population demands on this area. 

In spite of that, this lack of evidence does not seem to have deterred the Government from implementing policies in the recent period. Indeed, the recent years can be characterized by a number of initiatives in this area. Some of them have been implemented even at a national scale.  In this context, a large body of research may inform public policies at least in two substantive questions: what works? (what kind of policies can have an impact on crime) and what is worthwhile? (among those policies that have an impact, how their benefits compare to the costs associated with them). 

One of the complexities of this area is the number of actors that intervene in any single phenomenon of study. It is very hard to find cases where we can attribute full responsibility to a single actor. Thus a clear understanding of the entire system and what specific role each agency play is crucial from the public policy perspective. 

For that reason, during my visit I contacted a number of actors from multiple agencies. In terms of the criminal justice system I met with people from different agencies such as the Director of Research at the Undersecretary of Crime Prevention. This person described the main initiatives the current administration is leading in terms of crime prevention policies. In a similar way, I met with the Director of Studies at the Justice Ministry with whom I explore the possibilities of studying many promising questions in terms of the criminal justice system in Chile. Furthermore, I met with the entire research team at the Prison guards’ office (Gendarmería) which described me the main challenges they have in terms of data administration and public policy. Finally, I met with the research team of Fundación Paz Ciudadana which is a key actor from the private sector in this area. 

Perhaps more importantly, during this visit I explore the chance of initiating mutually collaborative projects with two important actors in the criminal justice system. In particular, I met with the General Secretary of the National Police (Carabineros) in order to initiate a research project with them. My idea was to start a project that aims to understand the pattern of urban crime, and in particular crime displacement. Crime displacement is a key topic in criminology and especially in program evaluation. I believe that no progress in that research area can be made without access to high quality data. Fortunately, after a couple of meetings I had with the officials of the Chilean national police, I have been working with the Department of Criminal Studies which is a specialized agency of the Chilean police that analyzes important volumes of data regarding criminal activity in the whole country. This initiative seems to be very promising in terms of both research findings and public policy contributions. 

In a similar way I met with different officials at an important agency from the criminal justice system with whom we also started another collaborative research project. Although the scope and some of the specific purposes of this project has yet to be decided, I believe there is a great opportunity to learn from the way the criminal justice system is currently working in Chile. My main goal would be to contribute to the understanding of the extent to which recent policies implemented in the entire country has deterred crime. 

The real benefits of this trip are yet to be stablished but I am glad I had the chance to do this at this stage of my career. I believe that any single meeting I had will have a substantial contribution to the way that I am conducting my research agenda. My hope is that they will not only allow me to do a contribution to the scarce research literature in this area, but also to make some improvements on making the entire criminal justice system better and fairer for everyone.

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