Until you’ve reformed everything, you’ve reformed nothing

For some reason, CICPC head Wilmer Flores thinks it's endearing to keep a bronze "cangrejo" (unsolved crime) on his desk.

Personally, I have no idea if – as El Nacional originally reported – the Investigative Police (CICPC) really decided to decriminalize, de facto, all small-time drug-dealing and other small scale crime, creating a kind of nationwide Hamsterdam, or if, as CICPC later desperately spun it, this was all a media conspiracy.

What I do know, though, is that CICPC cannot, by itself, do anything meaningful about crime when we have 39,000 inmates living – up to 2-per-square-meter – in jails built for 14,000. A decision to basically stop prosecuting small-time crime under those conditions is at once desperately unwise and perfectly understandable.

In a way, Flores’s huffy denial can be read laterally as a furious vow to continue perpetrating massive, systematic human rights violations against suspects held in custody.

The Criminal Justice System is a flow system. Until you’ve wrapped your mind around that, you can’t begin to come to grips with the crisis. Criminals flow logically through a number of stages sequentially; a bottleneck in any one stage renders reforms in the others useless.

This is why proportional investment throughout the system is so important: expanding police capacities without expanding prison capacity (or court capacity, or probation service capacity, or detainee handling capacity, or public defense capacity) is exactly like deciding to enlarge just one section of piping in your house’s plumbing. A total waste of time and money.

The desperate stop-gaps people like Flores – people who have authority over just one part of the system – are forced into only underscores the hopelessness of partial reform. In criminal justice, until you’ve reformed everything, you’ve reformed nothing.

22 thoughts on “Until you’ve reformed everything, you’ve reformed nothing

  1. I think that after getting the diagnostics right you got the policy implications quite wrong Quico. Actually, because it is a flow, we have to identify the “most binding” bottleneck and invest there to solve it out. Your logic (reform everything at the same time) is only valid if the system is uniformely f*cked up (which might be the case, but anyway is a specific case and not a general solution to the question you are putting forward). In general, precisely because it is a flow (in other words is not an additive system) it pays off to identify the most binding constraint (to the flow) and concentrate your reform effort on solving it.


    • This is certainly true, as far as it goes.

      What I was trying to express – perhaps artlessly – is the way a problem like this leaves players like Flores facing only horrible options. Guys like him, who have power over just one segment of the process, are forced to manage a debacle: the reforms needed are beyond any of their remits.

      The Venezuelan justice system certainly faces multiple bottlenecks, though. Some are just bottleneckier than others. Following the 30% rise in incarceration rates since last year – together with less than a 3% rise in installed prison places in a similar period – a guy like Flores faces a hopeless bind. He’s under huge pressure to keep rounding up crooks that there are no prison places for. And the Interior Ministry just won’t devote resources to clearing the next bottleneck down the line. You almost feel bad for him.


      • It is because it is a flow that one need prioritize on the “mouth” of the of the process, like with traffic, getting the cars exiting a traffic jam to have right of way. In this case, I think a quick improvement would be to automatically let out of any form of holding any person who has already been held longer than what the maximum sentence for the supposed wrongdoing could possibly be, for example. I have no idea how many that would be, but, to each of those persons this little action would have a huge impact. Given Afiuni’s situation in making a decision along these lines (i.e., enough time had passed with no evidence presented), I don’t think the system is in this much mire out of lack of alternatives, but much due to a lack of desire to fix it.


  2. There must be over a hundred carefully controlled studies that show that each $1.00 spent on education returns multiples of dollars in savings in crime, law enforcement, criminal justice, prisons, parole, etc. I believe, on average, the ration is about 1:10.


    • I would strongly reject any idea that adding indoctrination for Bolivarian Socialism to an educational curriculum would produce similar savings.


  3. Too bad. For a moment I thought that Caracas could go the way of Lisbon. Lisbon is a safe and easygoing city, and you can find a drug dealer every 50 meters or so on some boulevards. Sometimes between cops standing on corners.

    In deciding not to go after some small crimes, the CICPC might actually alleviate an overburdened justice system, and even prevent some serious crime. You see, there’s the law and the justice system and of course prisons and other penalties. They are supposed to take care of activities that in themselves endanger persons and cause all kinds of costs, that can be prosecuted and taken care of judicially.

    There’s utility to society in catching petty criminals such as thieves and embezzlers. And other people who actually violate others’ rights.

    With drug dealers, it’s usually the other way around. Chasing after them actually causes crime, from the petty, to the serious, to things that interest the INTERPOL like organized crime, to things that interest governments like terrorism, to things that catch the eye of The Hague, like genocide. And not only by hardened criminals; also by law enforcement and armies.


    • Of course, your example of the “bottleneck” in the U.S. justice system, with its outrageous incarceration rates, begs the question:

      Why are there so many inmates being currently processed through the U.S. justice system in the first place? Is their incarceration of some utility? Enough to offset the enormous costs? Did they really endanger society through the activities that got them convicted in the first place, enough to have almost all their rights taken away? Would they not become more dangerous as ex-convicts anyhow? Isn’t this last thing an enormous incurred human and economic cost? What about the demeaning of criminal justice and of the very concept of crime?


  4. First I must ask, where the fuck is Tarek el-Aisami? -He is responsible for the jails, the CICPC, and the entire system that has come to a complete collapse… He is all to worried with the crimes his family has been involved with and not enough with the legal/justice system, and nobody seems to ask for his opinion (uncle Hugo ordered him to lay low for awhile I guess).


    “A decision to basically stop prosecuting small-time crime under those conditions is at once desperately unwise and perfectly understandable”

    Some questions I think we should be asking:
    -Does he even have the authority to do so, how can a police Director make a decision on retaining criminals?
    -What is the REAL role of the CICPC in the present?
    -Should they be investigating small crimes at all?


  5. Love the plumbing metaphor. It just works on SO many levels!

    Not only for this issue (which it certainly does), but for the whole Chavez administration. The prison system is a piece of crap, because they get crapped on from above (i.e., the beginning of the plumbing system). You could call the Venezuelan government a SISO (similar to GIGO) operation.


  6. Quico, I agree with you. In fact, taking from the tube, I would say that you can’t reform the Order without reforming the Law. And viceversa.

    Two additional things come to my mind. First, the head of a police body CAN’T decide what is a crime and what is not. Period. Not even the minister can do that. Nor should the president. It is a legislative matter, in which they should take into account the whole system, including judicial and police (as in Order) implications.

    Secondly, if we supposed good faith in him, así estará el hombre de presionado….

    I just would like to see the oppo side jumping into this problem.


  7. The Venezuelan crime problem is due to three things.

    1) The opposition (that means you, Quico) and its relentless preaching of nihilism, anarchism, and lack of respect for the authority of the State.
    2) The opposition (that means you) preaching the values of bourgeois late capitalism, in which anything is acceptable in order to make a buck.
    3) The opposition (that means you) conspiring with the CIA to smuggle guns into Venezuela, engineer a crime wave, and thereby discredit the government.

    I can’t believe the gall that it must take for you people to blather on about a crime wave that is YOUR FAULT.


    • Now that you’re done talking about fault, let’s talk about responsibility.

      I can’t believe the gall that it must talke for you to blather on about who’s fault it is to distract from anyone pointing at those RESPONSIBLE in dealing with it. Are you promoting no accountability?


    • I had no idea that the CIA was arming groups like La Piedrita. Very clever of them, arming the malandros.

      Are the iguanas armed too, or are they just trained as ninjiguanas at Langley?


    • Where’s the proof?
      Show it or shut up.

      ” lack of respect for the authority of the State.” Sounds Fascistic-fetishist to me.

      And right, they are also withdrawing the lithium from Chávez in order to have him arm those groups, right?


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