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Citizen Security in Latin America and the Caribbean

Regional context

Crime and violence hinder sustainable development and economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • The region’s homicide rate is three times higher than the world average at 18 vs. 5.6 per 100,000 inhabitants (UNODC, 2023).
  • 50% of all homicides in the Americas are connected to organized crime, compared to 24% globally (UNODC, 2023).

This level of criminal violence affects the lives of the region’s inhabitants, as well as its economy and institutions:

  • It impacts people's well-being and behaviors: 30% of households have suffered a crime in the past year, and 51% of the population reports not feeling safe, compared to 20% globally (World Values Survey, 2017–2022).
  • It increases the cost of doing business: one in four companies see crime as a serious or very serious constraint to doing business (World Bank, 2018).
  • It undermines the rule of law, erodes trust in institutions and costs the region 3.5% of GDP annually, taking resources away from pressing needs like education and health (IDB, 2023).

Crime and violence take different forms in different countries, cities, and territories. 

  • On average, 50% of crimes occur on only 2.5% of the street space in Latin American and Caribbean cities (Chainey et al, 2019).
  • Fifty-four percent of households report the presence of local criminal groups, and 14% report that they provide services and regulate security (Latinobarómetro, 2020). This phenomenon of criminal governance—where crime groups or networks are present and exert influence—is concentrated in areas known as fragility pockets, which have a combination of state fragility and criminal violence.

Crime and violence disproportionately affect women, children, and diverse populations.

  • One in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence in her lifetime (WHO, 2021).
  • The homicide rate is three times higher among youth (ages 20–25) than among the general population (UNODC, 2020).
  • 58% of children have suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse (Hills et al., 2016).

 

How to build a safer, fairer and more inclusive region

The Inter-American Development Bank’s comprehensive approach to crime and violence centers on working with countries on social prevention and on building the capacities of security and justice institutions. 

This approach covers a broad spectrum of crimes and types of violence, including gender-based crimes, crimes against children and adolescents, cybercrime, human trafficking and organized crime. The approach also tackles the complex interplay between state fragility and criminal violence, with a focus on territories currently governed by criminal groups.

Social prevention of violence. 

  • This area of the bank’s work includes prevention programs to protect those most vulnerable to becoming victims or perpetrators of crime and violence, including youth, women, children, migrants, LGBTQ people, Afro-descendants, Indigenous people and people with disabilities.
  • These initiatives aim to mitigate risk factors by addressing the root causes of crime and violence, especially in their most complex form— organized crime — at the individual, interpersonal, household and community levels. They are also designed to reduce the impacts on these vulnerable populations.
  • These initiatives include support for positive parenting programs, education and employment for youth at risk of becoming involved in criminal activities and organizations, as well as interventions to reduce recruitment of youth by criminal organizations. Other initiatives aim to enhance the capacities and coordination of the institutions responsible for improving the design, targeting, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these programs.

Institutional capacity building: 

  • This area of work focuses on strengthening the capacities of security and justice institutions for more effective, transparent and coordinated prevention and response to crime and violence. 
  • It includes programs and reforms to boost the effectiveness, accountability and legitimacy of the police, prosecutors' offices, the judiciary and the penitentiary system by developing more professional and specialized workforces, implementing transparency and control mechanisms, and strengthening physical and digital infrastructure.
  • These initiatives include support for training justice and security officials, inter-institutional coordination, creating specialized units and strategies for complex and organized crime, and developing tools to combat money laundering, among other areas.

Amidst the continued challenge of crime and violence, which are exacerbated by organized crime, Latin American and Caribbean countries turn to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to design and implement evidence-based solutions to prevent and strengthen institutional capacities to respond to these challenges.

The IDB’s portfolio of citizen security and justice projects for 2024 will be its largest annual investment in technical and financial support through lending operations for this issue. These investments are a response to the region’s pressing and sometimes novel citizen security issues and challenges, such as organized crime, cybercrime, money laundering, youth violence and human trafficking.

 

Impact of the IDB Group's work on citizen security

For nearly two decades, the IDB has been a pioneer among multilateral institutions in addressing the drivers and impacts of crime and violence in Latin America and the Caribbean through knowledge generation, evidence-based technical and financial support to programs and technical dialogue.

The IDB has an ambitious and comprehensive agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean to help countries effectively address crime and violence. Since 2009, we have approved 36 operations totaling $1.6 billion in 15 countries.

Below are some of the results of our crime and violence prevention programs:

  • The programs for youth behavior change and reintegration opportunities for youth in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica correlated with a drop in gang-related violent crime. In Trinidad and Tobago’s eastern Port of Spain region, where the intervention was implemented, homicides fell by 55%, compared to 17% nationally, and injuries and shootings declined by 20%, versus a nationwide decrease of 2%.
  • Jamaica also recorded a 22% drop in child abuse cases and a 33% decrease in truancy due to positive parenting interventions.
  • In Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, the number of deaths by homicide among people aged 15 to 24 fell by 45%, with the sharpest decline among Afro-descendant youth.

Our efforts to strengthen the institutional capacities of the police, justice and penitentiary systems have also yielded tangible successes:

  • In Honduras, a police reform program contributed to a 50% drop in the homicide rate and a 50% increase in public confidence in the police. The program improved recruitment requirements, training curricula and infrastructure for academic training and criminal investigations.
  • In Paraná, Brazil, a surveillance intervention at crime hotspots achieved a 26% decrease in muggings in just three months.
  • In Costa Rica, a program to modernize the administration of justice helped the country increase case resolution rates by 5% and cut the cost per case by 75%.
  • In Chile, a partnership between the prison system and the banking sector to provide microloans, seed capital and job training achieved economic inclusion and a 50% reduction in recidivism among women in conflict with the law.
  • The Justice Program in Ceará, Brazil managed to shorten case processing times. For example, the average time for appeals fell from 60 to 35 days.
  • IDB support is enhancing the information sharing and analysis capabilities of financial intelligence units to strengthen their ability to detect money laundering and predicate offenses. These assessments seek to identify financial and non-financial vulnerabilities that could be exploited by organized crime. 

The IDB has played a key role in generating and sharing evidence-based knowledge and developing innovative approaches to the complex challenge of crime and violence by supporting the development, evaluation and scaling up of pilot programs.

  • In addition to conducting novel research on the cost of crime and efficiency of security expenditure, we systematized and adapted existing practical knowledge. We performed several impact evaluations by, for example, adapting the “Cure Violence” model, which has been tested in the USA and takes an approach different from traditional ones based on use of force.
  • Our evaluations in Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador and Colombia confirmed that these interventions that focus on behavioral change helped reduce violent crime in gang areas. In program areas in Trinidad and Tobago, injuries and shootings dropped by 60%. This type of intervention is now being implemented in Brazil, Peru and Jamaica.
  • We also adopted the “Hot Spots Policing” model. A randomized patrolling experiment in Uruguay and Argentina concluded that specialized police officer had greater success in reducing and deterring robberies when they were concentrated in areas with this crime is more frequent. In Uruguay, for example, the frequency of robberies fell by 23%. Now several countries in the region are applying versions of these practices with our support.
  • In 2023, the IDB launched the Evidence-Based Justice and Security Platform to inform decision-makers and public policy about effective programs and interventions that have been rigorously evaluated due to their success in reducing crime and violence. The repository contains information on 90 types of solutions and more than 700 examples of interventions from Latin America and the Caribbean and other regions. It is the only resource of its kind available in Spanish and Portuguese.
  • For more than a decade, the IDB has spearheaded the Citizen Security and Justice Week, the largest annual regional dialogue platform on security and justice in Latin America and the Caribbean. The objective is to identify emerging challenges and exchange evidence-based knowledge and best practices with authorities, experts, academics and civil society organizations.

 

Contacts

Molina Medina,Vanessa Carolina

Molina Medina,Vanessa Carolina
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