New Security Commissioner in Mexico Takes Aim at Prison Reform

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Mexico’s new national security commissioner says that he will prioritize prison reform and increasing citizen trust in the Federal Police, raising questions about how closely his agenda aligns with the actual security needs of the country.

After assuming his new post as head of the National Security Commission (CNS) on August 28, Renato Sales spoke with the media to outline his security agenda, emphasizing the need to strengthen the country’s prison system and to introduce reforms that will consolidate public confidence in the Federal Police. 

Sales said that the escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is only one of many urgent security-related tasks facing Mexico, but that the drug kingpin’s jailbreak underlines the need for prison reforms.

Sales also addressed issues facing the Federal Police, saying the force must do a better job of engaging citizens and that officers should be better educated on the country’s criminal justice system. 

InSight Crime Analysis  

Sales has only introduced his priority agenda items in broad strokes, but based on the limited details he has revealed so far, it is unclear why the commissioner is placing such a high level of importance on prison reform. Prison escapes in Mexico have risen in the past three years, but the overall number remains low, and the issue hardly constitutes Mexico’s most pressing security problem. 

In addition to the well-placed emphasis on restoring trust in the Federal Police, Sales has also accurately identified the “atomization” of criminal structures in Mexico as a primary challenge for law enforcement. However, it does not appear Sales has addressed the issue of excessive force by police and the military, despite several high-profile cases of human rights violations committed by Mexican security forces in the past year.

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How well Sales’ priorities line up with President Enrique Peña Nieto’s political agenda will become clearer once the president delivers his state of the union address on September 2. Considering Sales was a direct apointee of the president, it is unlikely that their agendas will differ significantly.

But Sales’ appointment may not have much of an impact if there are no structural reforms to the security commission. At El Daily Post, Alejandro Hope spoke highly of the new commissioner’s experience in Mexico’s criminal justice system, but noted that his predecessor also had strong credentials yet lasted less than two years on the job due to dysfunction within the CNS. 

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