We developed Juan’s life story based on a variety of qualitative and quantitative sources that provide insight into the risk factors, predisposing conditions, and impact of crime and violence in Mexico. Qualitative research included field work conducted under the auspices of the Mexican Ministry of Health's National Council for Injury Prevention (CONAPRA), in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua during 2007 and 2014. We also reviewed life stories documented and reported by newspapers and local media, as well as interviews with non-governmental organizations working with disadvantaged youth in high risk neighborhoods and criminal offenders.
The estimates of Juan’s exposure to violence and criminal behavior, and the specific types of crimes committed during the various life stages, were based on a survey conducted by our group at 14 Mexican Federal Prisons (CEFERESOS) during 2018, which included 3,419 incarcerated male respondents. Information on prevalence and incidence of violence, delinquency, and criminal victimization, was based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (ENVIPE 2021) and National Crime Business Victimization Survey (ENVE 2020) [5,12].
It is worth noting that the number and severity of criminal actions reported during Juan’s life, and their associated costs, may be considerably underestimated due to the impunity rates observed in the country, evidenced by the fact that over 93.3% of all crimes in Mexico are left unreported . Total cost savings from each age-stage-specific intervention were calculated by subtracting the costs of the interventions from the total estimated cost of the consequences of violence and crime in Juan’s life. This calculation was conducted under the assumption that successfully implemented interventions will lead to a halt in all subsequent crimes and consequences of violent acts.
The individual costs of the consequences of each of the violent, delinquent, and criminal events in Juan’s life were estimated from various official sources of information. These include INEGI´s National Survey of Business Victimization (ENVE 2020), the National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Safety (ENVIPE 2021), the Childhood and Family Welfare Agency (DIF for its Spanish acronym “Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia”), the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), and international sources including the Institute of Medicine´s publications regarding the lifetime cost of violent episodes (USA). Average costs are categorized into groups including: health care, policing and justice administration, different violent acts, private security, auto part theft, intervention programs, and education. Each of these categories were used to calculate the total cost of Juan’s life until the age of 37.
The costs were calculated in Mexican pesos based on prices published by the aforementioned institutions. Costs reported prior to 2021 were converted to the value of the Mexican peso for 2021, using inflation calculation tools . Prices were then converted to United States Dollars (USD) using the November 2021 exchange rate. The breakdown of each cost and its source is presented in the supplement.
Costs and Proposals for Interventions
Evidence based interventions were chosen based on proven effectiveness (per specific age group) and strength of outcomes in published literature. The costs of the interventions were provided by published literature and local organizations implementing these programs in Mexico and other Latin American countries. These costs are representative of the price of implementation per one family or individual, depending on the intervention.
Given that the cost of the interventions is not exact, some of the costs are averages from multiple sources. Additionally, given that our high-risk population may require more resources than usually necessary, we have doubled the estimated cost of all of the interventions in our analysis, other than for the Progresa program, to cover any inaccuracies.
Juan represents a typical Mexican child born into a troubled family, who must cope with socioeconomic disadvantage, poverty, family violence, and neglect. As he grows up, he continues to be affected by the risk factors in his home and community. Consequently, he lives a childhood full of conflict and exposure to violence and crime, which ultimately lands him in prison. Juan´s experiences are used to highlight the most common risk factors that affect Mexican youth who become involved in crime, and his life path represents one of many possible outcomes commonly seen in adolescent offenders. His narrative illustrates the compounding costs associated with neglecting to address the risk factors that lead children and young persons to violence and crime in Mexico. This is his story:
Stage: Infancy (0-2 years old)
Juan's mother was raised by her grandmother after her parents abandoned her at a young age. She became pregnant in her last year of high school and while her boyfriend (Juan’s father) supported her for a short time, he left Juan’s mother shortly before Juan was born . During her pregnancy, and in the first 7 months of Juan's life, Juan’s mother found work by taking care of the neighbor’s children. During these first months, Juan attended a nursery. However, due to low vaccination rates in the community, Juan contracted influenza pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital for 5 days [15, 16].
Juan's father would appear occasionally to give Juan’s mother some money. However, on one visit, he got into an argument with Juan’s mother and an episode of domestic violence ensued, causing a neighbor to call the police . The police detained Juan's father and discovered that he was wanted for robbery. He was subsequently sent to prison for 2 years. After this incident, the police reported Juan to the DIF. A few months later, after being notified of his admission to a pediatric hospital for acute gastroenteritis, the DIF carried out an investigation which found that Juan was exposed to a high-risk environment, low quality of care, and lack of adequate attention . Juan’s mother was advised to participate in a support program for women. Juan’s mother attended this support group for a few months, but later stopped because it was incompatible with her need to work to sustain her family. Juan’s grandmother died when Juan was one year old. Unable to cover rent, Juan and his mother went to live with Juan’s aunt in a small apartment along with her 3 children.
Stage: Preschool (3-5 years old)
Life in the apartment was difficult for both Juan and his mother. His uncle was an alcoholic who physically abused his two children, his partner, and Juan . In one case of abuse, Juan was brought to the hospital for an eyebrow wound which required suturing. During this difficult stage of life, Juan developed a hostile attitude and aggressive behavior. He bit his cousins and classmates on several occasions, even sending two children to the doctor.
After leaving prison, Juan's father took Juan and his mother to live with him in an apartment in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood. Juan had to be transferred between several different daycares because of his aggressive and antisocial behavior, and eventually he was refused admission to daycare. Juan’s mother became pregnant again with Juan's father. While Juan’s mother went to work, Juan's father took care of him at home. Juan’s father brought him to and from the nearby public kindergarten, but one day he had a fight with the director of the kindergarten leading to Juan’s expulsion.
Juan's father found a new partner, and began to neglect Juan and his mother. One day, he hit Juan’s mother so hard that she had to go to the hospital . When she returned, Juan's father had left. Juan and his mother found out that Juan’s father was once again in prison—this time for selling drugs and robbery . A few days later, the police arrived at the apartment with a search warrant. In the apartment, they found narcotics, stolen objects, and a gun, for which Juan’s mother was arrested and sent to prison.
Juan’s aunt decided that Juan should return to live in her house. During his stay, Juan was sexually abused by his uncle, which he never told anyone about . Neighbors who knew about the domestic violence and abuse that took place in the house reported it to the authorities and Juan was sent to a DIF orphanage.
Stage: School age (6-10 years old)
With his mother and father in prison, Juan lived in the DIF orphanage until he was 8 years old . At the orphanage’s school, Juan was the source of many disruptions. On one occasion when he attacked his classmate with a rock, the child had to be hospitalized and underwent surgery for a head injury. The school psychologist then referred Juan to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder . He subsequently entered a support program in which he received therapy and medications. Despite this support, Juan fell behind in school, had to repeat a school year, and continued his violent behavior. On one particularly bad day, Juan broke two chairs, a table, a window, and a television, leading to his expulsion from the orphanage, and abrupt cessation of medical treatment and education. Juan, now without any support, lived on the street . He often stole items from supermarkets and self-service stores to survive. Juan also sold sweets and cleaned cars, in addition to being involved in the theft of auto parts to get by.
Stage: Young Adolescent (11 - 14 years old)
Living on the streets, Juan met a gang of adolescents and young adults who also lacked parents or any other form of support . As a member of this new group, Juan became involved with selling and using drugs, and committed armed robbery on eight separate occasions. Juan was arrested and taken to the police station, but was released without charges . On the street he learned to fight, which earned him respect from others and a job as a messenger for drug dealers. However, on one occasion, he was attacked and robbed of his money and drugs by clients who left him badly injured. Bystanders called an ambulance, and he was transferred to the emergency service where he was treated for multiple wounds in both his arms and legs.
During his time living on the streets, Juan lost contact with his mother, but not with his father, who gave him some money and began to involve him in illicit activities, such as pirating CD’s, drug trafficking, and extortions.
Stage: Late Adolescent (15-17 years old)
One night at a neighborhood party, with gang members, drugs, and alcohol, Juan raped a young girl . She became pregnant, had a miscarriage, was hospitalized for two days, and was taken to a support group for raped girls. At the same party, he got into an argument and hit another boy, who ended up in intensive care for multiple fractures. Juan fled, and although days later he was apprehended by the police, the boy’s family withdrew the complaint due to threats from other criminals who were protecting him. Juan soon became involved in major criminal activities such as car robbery, kidnapping, and homicide. He was caught in some acts, but always managed to escape thanks to bribes and the help of his protectors.
Juan formed his own gang with other young people who shared similar life stories as him. Together they began selling drugs, participated in the robberies of thirteen cars, and conducted a kidnapping of a local business owner for ransom . During this time, Juan and his group started a fight over the distribution of drugs in their neighborhood, which eventually led to an armed confrontation, in which two rival gang members were shot and killed.
Juan also had many romantic partners, who admired him for his position of power on the street. He fathered a son with one of these partners, but was not involved in his life and offered them no financial support. Juan also beat his uncle in revenge for the physical and sexual abuse he suffered in his childhood, sending his uncle to the hospital for three days with multiple injuries. At this point, Juan had become completely estranged from his father, mother, and rest of his family aside from his younger brother.
Stage: Adulthood (18 years old and onwards)
As part of the largest drug distribution group in the city, Juan was involved in the trafficking of drugs between major cities. His brother, who was part of Juan’s group, was killed during a police raid while conducting an illegal operation. Months later, together with his collaborators, Juan took revenge, and killed one of the gang members thought to be implicated in his brother's death.
During one of the drug transfers, Juan was caught, arrested, and sentenced to twelve years in prison. In prison, he served as a link between another criminal organization and his own group, becoming involved in seven kidnappings for ransom . During his stay in prison, Juan was also involved in many fights, and in one of these, a prisoner died, with three others getting seriously injured. The injured prisoners were taken to the hospital for medical attention, along with two others with minor injuries, including Juan. In the aftermath of the fight, Juan was transferred to a high security prison and his sentence was extended for 7 more years.
Over the course of the following 5 years, eight members of his group were arrested, another two were killed on Juan's orders, and three were killed in clashes with other gangs. Today, Juan is 37 years old and is about to finish his prison sentence.