Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Venezuela and Crime - A preliminary discussion

For socialist criminologists, it is of vital importance not just to criticise how capitalism deals with crime (or rather fails to deal with it), but to observe what happens when more left wing regimes take power and what they do with the crime problem. For myself, I think it is a great shame that previous left criminologists failed to look at the effect of the Militant-led labour council in Liverpool between 1983-87 and what effects their policies and actions had on crime in that city. Similarly there is little serious criminological work on the effect of either the Paris Commune or the 1917 Russian Revolution on crime. (By serious work I mean work that doesn’t just slander the Bolsheviks and fail to address the real questions at hand – on the Paris Commune their seems to be nothing, whether this is because I haven’t researched it thoroughly enough yet I’m not completely sure however).

The same applies to the processes occurring across Latin America at the moment, and particularly Venezuela where the process is more advanced. A country with a president advocating socialism should be of prime importance for socialist criminologists. However, most commentary on crime and justice in Venezuela that I’ve seen so far comes from the right somewhat unsurprisingly condemning it. The role of socialist criminologists should not be to gloss over and deficiencies in the Venezuelan revolution, but to analyse what is going on with crime and justice in the country, what affect Chavez and the revolution are having and to criticise problems in a comradely manner.

There are two main things I’d heard about crime and justice in Venezuela before I began reading up about it. Firstly, that conditions in the Venezuelan prison system are terrible and secondly that there is a lot of violent crime, including murders in Venezuela. What I’ve found out so far goes some way to explaining the first of these but not so far the second.

The main problem with researching any country that isn’t an advanced capitalist country that isn’t in Europe (or Japan, the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa) is a lack of good information. Of course there are some anecdotal pieces, particularly where westerners have been imprisoned abroad or have been victims of serious crime, but compared to the wealth of information and statistics I could draw on when talking about the US or the UK. It just doesn’t exist. There are the occasional pieces of international comparative work but often these are just at the level of broad statistics (such as police figures or prison population which tells you a bit but not terribly much) rather than in depth comparisons which examine a criminal justice system at several levels and the processes involved in each.

Anyway back to Venezuela. I was fortunate enough that having started by MA course (in Comparative Crime and Criminal Justice) we actually had a lecture/seminar (they tend to be a mix of the two) on researching criminal justice systems comparatively and it just so happened one of the examples of pieces of information happened to be the World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems article on Venezuela. It is here I can comment on the other problem I’ve found in researching this topic. That is that most pieces of research looking at Venezuela are hopelessly out of date, for example the most recent reference from the piece I was given was from 1993.

The two main themes was the corruption present in the Venezuelan Criminal Justice system as well as the poor conditions in prisons. Now I know from some brief pieces I’ve read that the Chavez government did move some reform of the judiciary including suspending judges heavily accused of corruption. It’s something I intend to examine in more detail (ie what specific instances, the situation now), but it’s important to note that most corruption is present in advanced capitalist countries rather than the so-called third world (see the recent piece I posted a week or two ago).

As for the prison overcrowding. I first think it’s important to get it into context. Firstly, Venezuela only has 30 prisons which really isn’t very many. Secondly the Venezuelan proportion of people in prison in Venezuela (74 per 100,000) is significantly lower than in the UK (145) and thus massively lower than the US (738 - which is the highest incarceration rate in the world). In fact Venezuela imprisons less people than Sweden (78). So it’s not some kind of authoritarian regime imprisoning lots of people, indeed the prison overcrowding existed prior to and during Chavez being in power.

If one looks carefully at the Venezuelan prison stats (I got kicked out of the library before I could make a note of exactly where I got them from, I think they were UN ones), you notice that almost half of the entire Venezuelan prison population consists of remand prisoners. So half of the prison population is those who haven’t been even sentenced yet! The reason, the lack of judges to proceed with court cases so prisoners are held for extremely long periods of time.

Anyway this is just a beginning, and to be honest I feel like I haven't explained all that much at all, but I'm intending in following up this post with more specific ones such as on the venezuelan prisons system, criminal justice, crime figures and other posts over the next few months.


David Duff said...

Not too much chance of an improvement in the Venezuelan crime statistics given that the government have organised state theft on a grand scale, and, if they run true to all, repeat, all, radical Marxist governments, much of the theft will be personal, as well.

Renegade Eye said...

Crime is a real problem in Venezuela. It doesn't seem to being addressed as far as I can tell, except by the rightist opposition.

How does crime in Venezuela compare to say Colombia or Brazil?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

Ren is correct to ask about how crime in Venezuela compares with other countries in Latin America. It's pretty bad the whole continent wide and I'm planning on doing a piece on it. But as we can see from the piece and other research the crime problem in venezuela was bad before Chavez

@ David Duff, please don't waste yours and my time by just posting slanders. if you think there's a link between state expropriation and theft, then please get some evidence to demonstrate it. I would argue that there's a link between privatisation (under neo-liberalism) and crime and would use examples such as the vast increase of crime under the Thatcher government in the UK and the vast increase in crime after the break up of Soviet Russia (indeed organised crimes seemed to be buying a lot of former state property there).

Dave Marlow said...

One of the most compelling criticisms of Chavez I have heard is his inability to deal with Venezuela's crime rate. I am eager to read a follow-up on this very under-covered subject, which I agree is of utmost importance.

The incarceration rate statistics are extremely compelling. They came from U.N. studies, you said?

Many of our prison over-crowding problems in the U.S. is the heavy sentencing for minor drug charges. A 738 incarceration rate is chilling.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I will have to look up the Venezuelan prison detailed statistics again. But the imprisonment rate figures were from a US piece looking at the US prison population and comparing it worldwide with other countries.

I think the first thing i'll try and post on is the prison situation but i'll try and cover other issues too at a later date

A Very Public Sociologist said...

Good post, comrade. I look forward to a follow up. If it grows into a monster, have you thought about submitting it to Socialism Today?

Btw thanks for keeping the SP blogging flag flying :)

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I've found a piece that should be getting posted in a week or so discussing some of the issues relating to actual crime (rather than the criminal justice system)