Peru has reformed its laws pertaining to organized crime in a context of growing public concern about the issue, but it’s unclear whether the changes will have a substantial impact on crime groups operating in the country.
In an executive decree published on October 29, the Peruvian government established new penalties for those convicted of belonging to criminal groups.
“He who promotes, organizes, constitutes or integrates a criminal organization of three or more people” will face a minimum sentence of eight years, and a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison, according to the decree.
A prison sentence of fifteen to twenty years will apply for high-ranking members and financers of criminal organizations, or when the convicted person caused “the death of a person or severe physical or mental injury.”
The reform also differentiates between criminal organizations of three or more people and “criminal bands” composed of two or more people. Members of criminal bands will face sentences of four to eight years under the new law.
Another notable change makes those convicted of certain crimes — including homicide, murder for hire (or conspiracy to commit murder for hire), drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering — ineligible to recieve judicial benefits such as sentence reductions and conditional release.
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The decree comes in a context of growing concern about organized crime in Peru. Citizen security played a key role in presidential elections held earlier this year, as polls showed Peruvian citizens viewed insecurity as their country’s most pressing problem. And other recent surveys show more than 80 percent of Peruvians believe organized crime has infiltrated their government.
In light of this, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has put crime and security at the center of the agenda during his presidency’s first few months. His administration has remilitarized the fight against drug trafficking in the country’s main coca-growing region and has vowed to implement new anti-corruption measures, including an anti-corruption commission created last month.
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However, it is unclear whether the new, stricter prison sentences for those convicted of belonging to criminal groups will help Peru deal with problems related to organized crime. There is significant debate among experts about the deterrent effect of harsher sentences; some research suggests stricter penalities only deter crime if would-be criminals believe there is a high certainty that they will actually face punishment (pdf). In Peru, where a former president has been accused of allowing drug traffickers to pay for pardons, widespread corruption could reduce the deterrent effect of the new, tougher sentencing rules.
Moreover, as InSight Crime has previously pointed out, Peruvian prisons are rife with corruption that makes them in some ways ideal centers of operation for crime groups. Thus, keeping criminals locked up for longer periods may do little to cut down on crime — and could actually encourage its expansion. Improving the investigative capacities of the police and rooting out corruption in the judicial system could ultimately have a greater impact on organized crime than simply toughening prison sentences.