Guatemala Introduces Pre-Trial Detention for Weapons Charges

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Anybody caught carrying a gun in Guatemala will go straight to jail following an amendment to the criminal code, though it is questionable to what extent this will positively impact citizen security. 

Guatemala’s Congress passed an amendment to Article 264 of the country’s Code of Criminal Procedure so that anyone detained on suspicion of major crimes including murder, kidnapping and carrying unregistered guns will automatically go into pre-trial detention. Previously “alternative measures” such as house arrest had been an option where the risk of escape was not deemed great.

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said those arrested for carrying illegal firearms had in the past taken advantage of this judicial lenience, reported Prensa Libre. Officials believe the modification, which will go into effect eight days after publication, will provide judges with an important legal tool and help improve national security.

InSight Crime Analysis

Though governments often like to believe that putting more people in jail improves citizen security, the Latin American experience shows it can do quite the opposite. Prisons throughout the region are known strongholds for gangs, and the overcrowding of jails, in part due to lengthy pre-trial detention periods, facilitates the consolidation of gang power and prevents prisoner rehabilitation. Jails are breeding grounds for crime, with extortion rackets and drugs and weapon trafficking rings run by inmates working with associates outside the prison walls. 

SEE ALSO: A Look Inside El Salvador’s Prison Nightmare

The measure will also not address related issues such as access to arms — according to estimates from one Guatemalan non-profit organization, between 800,000 and 900,000 illegal firearms circulate in the country — and as standalone legislation is unlikely to have a serious impact on gun crime.

It is also unlikely to act as a deterrent for the organized crime groups that are behind much of the violence — Guatemala is not only home to street gangs with prison connections, but also to international criminal groups such as the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, for whom such legislation is not even a consideration.

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