International Criminology World

World : North America : Costa_Rica
Costa Rica

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and--at 3% of the population--number about 96,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population. In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth. Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history. This began a trend continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election. With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 12 presidential elections, the latest in 1998.

Today, Costa Rica is a longstanding, stable, constitutional democracy with a unicameral Legislative Assembly directly elected in free multiparty elections every 4 years. Miguel Angel Rodriguez of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) won the presidency in the 1998 elections, in which approximately 70 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The judiciary is generally independent.


After four years of slow economic growth, the Costa Rican economy grew at a healthy 5.6% in 2003, with growth estimates exceeding 4% for 2004. Compared with its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has achieved a high standard of living, with a per capita income of about U.S. $4,200, and an unemployment rate of 6.7%. The annual inflation rate hovers around 9.4% as the Costa Rican Government seeks to reduce a large fiscal deficit.

Controlling the budget deficit remains the single-biggest challenge for the country's economic policymakers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumes the equivalent of 32.1% in 2003 of the government's total revenues. About 18.9% of the national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources available for investments in the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.

Costa Rica's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and ecotourists.

Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Abbott Laboratories and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry. Two-way trade exceeded U.S. $6 billion in 2003.

Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but President Pacheco decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The country’s mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in most energy needs, except oil for transportation. Costa Rica exports electricity to Nicaragua and has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. One challenge will be how to secure payment for these exports. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica's infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is in disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. The main highland cities in the country's Central Valley are connected by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and by the Pan American Highway with Nicaragua and Panama, the neighboring countries to the North and the South. Costa Rica's ports are struggling to keep pace with growing trade. They have insufficient capacity, and their equipment is in poor condition. The railroad does not function, with the exception of a couple of spurs reactivated by a U.S.-owned banana company. The government opened the ports and the railroad to competitive bidding opportunities for private investment and management, but U.S. companies chose not to participate in this process. Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S. to participate in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.-CAFTA) in January 2004. CAFTA is expected to bring about the partial opening of the state telecommunications monopoly beginning in 2006 and a substantial opening of the state-run insurance sector beginning in 2008. CAFTA has not yet been ratified either by the U.S. or Costa Rican legislatures. Costa Rica is an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas as well as a member of the Cairns Group, which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization within the World Trade Organization.


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion; however, it also prohibits the State from impeding the free exercise of other religions "that do not impugn universal morality or proper behavior." Members of all faiths freely practiced their religion without government interference. Religious education teachers in public schools must be certified by the Roman Catholic Church Conference of Bishops, which does not certify teachers from other denominations or faiths. Private schools were free to offer any religious instruction. Foreign missionaries and clergy of all faiths worked and proselytized freely. The Government did not restrict the establishment of churches. New churches, primarily evangelical Protestant churches that are located in residential neighborhoods, occasionally encountered problems with local municipalities due to neighbors' complaints about noise and traffic. Some churches were closed as a result.


In Costa Rica there are two main levels or types of crime. The more serious types of crime, known as "delitos" or felonies, are categorized as such because they involve greater amounts of harm or threat. These include crimes against life or family, sex crimes, property damage, crimes involving public or national security, and human rights crimes. Drug trafficking and usage are also considered serious offenses in Costa Rica. The definition of illegal drugs mirror the definitions used by the U.S. and other countries. The second level of crime is less serious, and includes the misdemeanor or contravention categories. These carry penalties of less than 1 year in jail and include minor offenses against physical integrity or against property, the state or public safety. In both categories a person may receive a combination of prison and fines. The limits of punishment are pre-set by the penal code but the judge may exercise discretion and jurisprudence in cases with unusual circumstances. The range of penalties includes fines, imprisonment, and house arrest. Penalties for misdemeanors are less than 1 year in prison, while felonies carry from 1 to 25 years in prison. It is possible to receive a longer sentence based on multiple offenses. A recent change to the constitution forbids a combined sentence of more than 50 years in prison. Homicide carries a penalty of 15-25 years unless it is considered a crime of passion with just cause. In that case, the sentence usually carries from 1-6 years. Sexual violation of minors under the age of 12, or of those of any age and of either sex against their will is a 10-16 year crime. Robbery in Costa Rica is punished according to a specific formula which is based on the offender's economic situation. Penalties are calculated with a formula that uses the base income of the offender to calculate sentences and fines. If the value of the articles stolen or damaged does not exceed 3 times the base figure of the offender's annual income, then the sentence is set accordingly at somewhere between 6 months to 3 years. The sentence of 3 to 9 years is commonly given when injuries have occurred or the amount of the theft or loss was larger than 3 times the base income of the offender. The types of crime punishable by fines are, for example, traffic offenses or drunk driving, fist fights, threats, cruelty to animals, slander, or illegal fishing. Fines for misdemeanors are calculated using a system which is termed "Dias multa." Dias multa can be defined as fine days, or the number of days for which the accused is sentenced to pay a prescribed percentage of his income. These fines are set by the court with attention given to the income, means of subsistence, and rent of the condemned. He then has 15 days in which to pay or be remanded to jail. This time period may be altered by order of the judge if the economic situation of the offender is dire. There is no death penalty in Costa Rica.


The areas of Costa Rica which have the greatest concentration of criminal activity are those within the Great Metropolitan Area. This area is largely defined by the natural mountain boundaries and includes a large portion of the central plateau of the country. The cities of San Jose, parts of Cartago, Heredia, and Alajuela form most of this area. These cities, which are densely populated, have a greater percentage of total crime than the outlying rural areas.

The port cities of Limon and Puntarenas experience a great amount of drug-related incidents. Assault and robbery are more common because their populations are of a more transient nature. Although not specifically mentioned in this report, petty crimes, mugging, shoplifting, and fraud are prevalent in cities such as San Jose and the rest of the greater metropolitan area. In recent years the cities have seen a large increase in juvenile criminal gang activities. These young criminal children, generally called "Chapulines" or grasshoppers, are "a phenomena that reflects the breakdown of the family unit in Costa Rica."

With the single important exception of robbery, the crime rate in Costa Rica is low compared to more developed countries. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. In the UN reports, murders are referred to as "intentional homicides." Aggravated assaults are referred to as "major assaults," and larcenies are referred to as "thefts." According to the United Nations Seventh Annual Survey on Crime, crime recorded in police statistics shows the crime rate for the combined total of all Index crimes in Costa Rica to be 1208.2, per 100,000 inhabitants in 1999. This compares with 1529.75 for Japan (country with a low crime rate) and 4184.24 for USA (country with high crime rate). For intentional homicides, the rate in 1999 was 6.57 for Costa Rica, 0.53 for Japan, and 4.55 for USA. For major assaults, the rate in 1999 was 7.94 for Costa Rica, compared with 21.91 for Japan, and 329.63 for USA. (Note these data for Costa Rica were 1997 data and Japan are for total recorded assaults, since Japan did not report a figure for major assaults.) For rapes, the rate in 1999 was 12.73 for Costa Rica, 1.46 for Japan, and 32.05 for USA. For robberies, the rate in 1999 was 515.70 for Costa Rica, 3.34 for Japan, and 147.36 for USA. For automobile theft, the rate in 1999 was 64.3 for Costa Rica, 225.25 for Japan, and 412.70 for USA. The rate of burglaries for 1999 was 384.5 for Costa Rica, 205.50 for Japan, and 755.29 for USA (note: 1994 data were substituted for Costa Rica since none were reported in 1999.. The rate for thefts in 1999 was 216.53 for Costa Rica, compared with 1279.00 for Japan and 2502.66 for USA.


Between 1995 (Sixth Annual Survey) and 1999 (Seventh Annual Survey) the rate for all recorded Index offenses increased from 1025.85 to 1208.27, per 100,000 in Costa Rica, an increase of 17.9%. The rate of intentional homicide increased from 5.45 to 6.57, an increase of 10.6%. However, the rate for major assaults decreased from 12.98 to 7.94, a decrease of 24% (note: data are for 1995 and 1997, since no report in 1999). The rate of rape increased from 7.02 to 12.73, an increase of 81.3%. The rate for robberies increased from increased from 415.95 to 515.7, an increase of 24%. The rate for automobile theft increased from 54.9% to 64.3%, an increase of 17.2%. The rate of burglaries increased from 284.98 to 384.5, an increase of 34.9% (note: data are for 1990 and 1994 respectively, since there was no report for the subject years). Thefts increased from decreased from 244.61 to 216.53, a decrease of 11.5%..


The Costa Rican judiciary, El Poder Judicial, was created in 1821 and has been functioning ever since. The Costa Rican legal system can be classified as a Romano-Germanic style of law. It closely follows the Civil Law system and the Positivist Roman school of thought. The Civil Law model holds crime to be an offense against the State rather than against an individual. The state assumes the role of investigator as well as arbiter. As an explanation of crime, the Positivist Roman model looks towards the natural sciences for the source of men's criminal intentions. It suggests that human behavior is a result of biological, social, psychological and economic influences. Today this country's legal system incorporates both of these concepts.


Training for most police officers is carried out at service academies or specialized schools, depending upon the job requirements. Attendance at these schools may be as short as 1 month, with the result that not all policemen are well trained, especially those in the rural areas. Those officers assigned to the OIJ, which is an advanced agency, receive the most extensive training. Upper ranking officers require a university degree and are often sent to other Latin American countries or the US to train. Outside of the OIJ, the average time an entry-level officer spends at an academy is 12 weeks. There may be additional training for those who are assigned to certain areas. The assignment of particular jobs is based upon the aptitude and temperament of the recruit, with past school performance taken into account. Officers in most areas are now required to have completed high school, with preference for those who have completed junior college. Recruits must also undergo psychological and physical evaluations and have recommendations from respected members of their home communities.

The amount of power allowed the police force is limited by the constitution and the desire of the people to protect their rights. Use of force is limited to that amount necessary to take control of a situation; deadly force is employed only when the officer's life or public safety is at stake. Officer normally carry either a .38mm or a .45mm firearm. They may also carry nightsticks or batons and handcuffs. Officers must have orders from a judge, probable cause, or catch the person in the act in order to carry out an arrest. However, there is some leniency in the use of the term "probable cause." Police do not make the decision whether or not to enter a detainee into the correctional system. They merely transport the offender and it is left to the judge to further process or release the person. They do not normally handle preventative measures but can decide to use cautioning approaches based on the circumstances. Arrests are seldom conducted without properly issued official warrants. An officer may act on his suspicions if he thinks they can be proven and then property may be freely inspected. A planned search requires a court-issued warrant. During the initial questioning of a suspect, the police may advise the use of a lawyer if the crime is considered serious. Normally, the investigative questioning and research is not done by the police, but by the Justice department. Testimony made by the defendant to the police cannot be used as evidence. and since the defendant is not considered a witness, he is not required to testify under oath.

In terms of human rights, there have been no reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents. There have also been no reports of politically motivated disappearances. The Constitution prohibits cruel or degrading treatment and holds invalid any statement obtained through violence, and the authorities generally abide by these prohibitions; however, members of the public forces were responsible for some physical abuse. Reports of police abuse of authority or misconduct decreased during the year 2001. An effective mechanism for lodging and recording complaints of police misconduct exists. The Ombudsman's office serves as a recourse to citizens that have complaints about violations of their civil and human rights and about deficiencies in public and private infrastructure. It investigates complaints and, when appropriate, initiates suits against officials. The Ombudsman's office received 21 reports of police abuse of authority or misconduct during the year 2001, compared with 52 in 2000, and 14 in 1999. The sharp decline in complaints of police abuse is largely due to the fact that there were a large number of complaints of alleged police brutality in March 2000 associated with the State Electricity and Telecommunications Company (ICE) strike in downtown San Jose. A large percentage of Public Security Force police owe their appointments to political patronage. The Rodriguez Administration continued implementation of the 1994 Police Code designed to depoliticize and professionalize the police force, and introduced legislation that became the Law for Strengthening the Civilian Police, which took effect on March 23. The new law amends the Police Code to replace military ranks with civilian titles, codifies a danger pay provision based on 18 percent of the base salary for officers, and establishes a promotion system linked to officers' educational attainment. It also requires the police academy to develop a course and diploma in police administration that includes material on the fundamental and universal principles of human rights. Finally, the law attempts to ensure that police officials are not dismissed due to a change in administrations. Excluded from this rule of employment continuity are policy-level officials such as ministers, vice ministers, their advisers, and general directors of each public security force section. The Government's long-term plan is to establish permanent, professional cadres, eventually resulting in a nonpolitically appointed career force.

The law requires judicial warrants to search private homes. Judges may approve the use of wiretaps in limited circumstances, primarily to combat narcotics trafficking. On December 12, 2001, the President signed a new law that permits wiretapping in investigations of genocide, homicide, procurement of minors, production of pornography, smuggling of minors, corruption of minors, trafficking in the organs of minors, and international crimes. The latter category includes acts directed by international criminal organizations involved in terrorism, kidnaping, and trafficking in slaves, women, children, or narcotics. The law grants considerable rights to squatters who invade uncultivated land, regardless of who may hold title to the property. Irregular enforcement of property rights and duplicate registrations of title have damaged the real property interests of many who believe they hold legitimate title to land. Landowners throughout the country have suffered frequent squatter invasions for years. The incidence of squatter invasions had increased in 1999 in anticipation of the land tenure regularization. During 2000, the Government removed 230 families without reports of protests or violence. However, on July 20, the Government removed 400 families from a Standard Fruit Company property in Rio Frio, involving use of tear gas by police and gunfire by some of the squatters. The Red Cross reported that in the aftermath it treated 38 individuals, including 5 policemen and 8 squatters. According to the Ministry of Public Security, one squatter who was injured by tear gas later died from an illness unrelated to the tear gas exposure.


The Constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions.

The "Public Force," a combination of several disbanded police units, including the Border Guard, the Rural Guard, and the Civil Guard, is approximately 10,000 strong, not including municipal police forces, which are supervised and funded by each municipality. The Ministry of Public Security has a Disciplinary Legal Department with an Internal Affairs Unit to investigate charges made against its public force members and members of other Ministry of Public Security units such as the anti-narcotics police. During the year, investigations resulted in over 70 dismissals. A number of the dismissals were the result of background checks that revealed some officers did not meet required educational or other hiring requirements, or had a number of unauthorized absences from duty. As of September, there were also were two dismissals for abuse of authority, nine for drug or alcohol abuse, three for refusal to take a drug test, and four dismissals for acts of corruption. These statistics did not include complaints against the judicial investigative police, transit police, or immigration officers, who were under the authority of other ministries or institutions

The Pacheco administration continued its effort to depoliticize and professionalize the police force. A 2001 law replaced military ranks with civilian titles and ensured that police officials were not dismissed due to a change in administrations. The law also required that the police academy develop a course in police administration that included material on the fundamental and universal principles of human rights. All new recruits received approximately 1 week of human rights training as part of the 7-month basic training program. Due to resource constraints, only new recruits passed through the basic training program; it was estimated that 3,500 members of the police force had attended the basic training program.

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests. The Constitution entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of the detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to bail, and the authorities observed it in practice. The law also provides detainees prompt access to an attorney, and, in practice, this was often done before the arraignment. Indigents are provided a public attorney at government expense, and, in practice, even those with sufficient personal funds may obtain a public defender. With judicial authorization, the authorities may hold suspects incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days.

On January 30, security forces detained approximately 600 citizens and Nicaraguan immigrants in La Carpio to verify their immigration status and check for outstanding arrest warrants. On March 19, the Supreme Court ruled that the collective detention was unconstitutional since it violated the due process rights of the individuals detained.

A criminal court may hold suspects in pretrial detention for periods of up to 1 year, and the court of appeals may extend this period to 2 years in especially complex cases. The law requires that suspects in pretrial detention have their cases reviewed every 3 months by the court to determine the appropriateness of continued detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, in October, there were 2,078 persons in pretrial detention, representing 39 percent of the prison population.


The Constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice. The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary vigorously enforces this right. The Supreme Court supervises the work of the lower courts, known as tribunals. The Legislative Assembly elects the 22 Supreme Court magistrates to 8-year terms, subject to automatic renewal unless the Assembly decides otherwise by a two-thirds majority. Accused persons may select attorneys to represent them, and the law provides for access to counsel at state expense for the indigent. A person accused of a crime in Costa Rica has certain basic rights. These rights are maintained throughout the steps of the legal process. These rights include: the right to an attorney, the right to know what charges are being filed against him, the right to obtain release on bail if it is authorized, and the right to a speedy trial. During the trial the accused does not have the right to trial by a jury of his peers. The judgment is made by a panel of three judges or only one judge if the crime has a maximum penalty of three years or less. During the process, the accused has the right, at all levels, to a defense attorney. An attorney will be provided if the person cannot afford to hire one. Preparatory procedures for bringing a suspect to trial. Upon arrest, the accused is taken before a fact-finding authority. This initial questioning period is aimed at general fact finding and some investigation. If the case is felt to have sufficient merit in the opinion of the investigator it is processed to the next level, where a judge of instruction hears the facts in the case. The general practice in Costa Rica is to set bail or release all suspects. This release is conditioned on the background, past criminal record, and the probable reliability of the offender. The seriousness of the crime and community impact are also analyzed. Personal factors are used to determine release and include details of the mother's family background, level of accused's education, status in the community, job performance, number of children, marital status, and leisure time activities. These are used in the decision to grant pre-trial release. It is estimated that 85% of those awaiting trial are released on their own recognizance. Only those who have been judged dangerous, likely to flee, or not cooperative in pre-trial proceedings are detained in a holding facility. Time served in holding facilities is deducted from the sentence if the accused is found guilty.

The state is represented by the Ministerio Publico or Prosecutor. The job of the judge of instruction is to gather further evidence if necessary and ensure that the case in ready to be tried. Judges at this level fine tune the legal process to ensure accuracy of information and the availability of necessary evidence and witnesses before the case proceeds to the tribunal. The concept of plea bargaining does not exist and the accused may not receive a lighter sentence in exchange for giving information about another crime or offender. The instructional judge can determine which crimes the defendant may be charged with. The accused is generally prosecuted on the more severe violations. The judge can set aside the lesser charges. A trial before a judge is held even if the individual is willing to plead guilty. It is always up to the judge to decide guilt or innocence.

There are five main levels within Costa Rica's judicial system. Alcaldias handle misdemeanors, and are directed by Judges of Peace or Magistrates. Juzgados are courts of First Instance, which deal with crimes whose penalties will be less than 3 years. Tribunal Superior and the Supreme Tribunal each deal with cases where the penalty is more than 3 years. The Tribunal Superior is a court of appeals and Supreme Tribunal serves as a Trial Court for Felonies. The Juzgados de Instruccion is handled by a magistrate who has Grand Jury responsibilities, duties and powers. The Salas Corte Suprema de Justicia is composed of 4 sections: Sala Primera is for Civil and family matters; Sala Segunda is the court of Labor and various other matters; Sala Tercera deals with Criminal matters; and Sala Cuarta handles Constitutional issues. The three lower courts are distributed throughout the seven provinces of Costa Rica, with the appeals and magistrates seated only in the capital city, San Jose. Appellate and Superior Judges are appointed by the Supreme Court. Judgeships of lower courts are appointed by the Judicial Counsel. These individuals must be attorneys with a high level of education. Schooling in Spain, England, or the United States is highly desirable if one wishes to be appointed and ongoing education is encouraged. The court system includes family, juvenile, land, and work courts. The majority of courts cases are resolved by trial process. Even if an individual decides to enter a plea of guilty, a judge must decide the case based on all available information.

The judge or panel of judges makes the sentence determination. Sentences are determined by the guidelines set in the penal code. The judge has some flexibility in adjusting the sentence to fit the crime based on all available data. If he feels the information is necessary the judge may receive inputs from psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, clergy and professionals.


There are 4 major correctional institutions which are clustered in the central plateau of the country. In San Jose and in each of the country's seven provinces there is at least one jail. There is one maximum security institution for males, one maximum security institution for females, one juvenile institution for males, and one mixed juvenile institution.

The prison system falls under authority of the Ministry of Justice and is managed by the Department of Social Adaptation. This department is also responsible for the hiring of guards. The ratio of guards to inmates is about 1 to 20. Training for jail guards is mainly done on the job. A technical school and an academy are available and increased numbers of new personnel must attend these facilities. Standard psychological, physical and intelligence tests are prerequisites to becoming employed in the jail system. Remissions are possible and time off for good behavior and participation in work programs is offered. An inmate is also eligible to apply for benficio or benefit after 50% of the sentence has been served. This entitles the prisoner to move to an open or semi-open facility and to make a smoother transition back into civilian life.

While in prison, inmates are not required to work, however, shorter time in prison can result from participation in training programs. Group therapy, and educational and vocational training are available based on behavior and willingness to participate. During leisure time, television sets are available, radios and other personal property are allowed. Family visits and conjugal privileges are permitted. There are no uniforms and there are very few outlets for recreation. In the juvenile facility 60 youths shared one basketball and did not have a single ping pong ball for use with their homemade table. Medical care and religious services are readily provided and food is plentiful and balanced.

Prison conditions are considered generally fair, and they generally meet international standards. Prisoners generally receive humane treatment. Prisoners are separated by sex and by level of security (minimum, medium, and maximum). Most but not all pretrial detainees are held separately from convicted prisoners. As of August 2000, the Ombudsman's office had received two complaints of physical abuse of prisoners by guards, and four complaints of psychological abuse; compared with six complaints of physical abuse and six complaints of psychological abuse in all of 1999. The Ombudsman's office investigates complaints and refers serious cases of abuse to the public prosecutor. Illegal narcotics are readily available in the prisons, and drug use is common. Penitentiary overcrowding remains a problem. The National Criminology Institute of the Ministry of Justice reported a total prison population of 11,858 in November 2001, with an overpopulation of 839 prisoners. Although prison overcrowding decreased from 163 percent to 15 percent between 1992 and 2001, there remains severe overcrowding in several small jails. In November the Ministry of Justice reported an overpopulation rate of 43 percent at the women's prison, 90 percent at Liberia, 87 percent at Heredia, 42 percent at Limon, 38 percent at Perez Zeledon, and 35 percent at Puntarenas. In 1996 the Supreme Court's Constitutional Chamber issued an order to the San Sebastian detention facility in San Jose, giving the institution 1 year to achieve minimally acceptable conditions for its prisoners. In August 2000, that court declared that no additional prisoners would be admitted to the San Sebastian prison until it met the U.N. minimum standards for the treatment of the imprisoned. As of November, the San Sebastian prison population was 27 percent over its capacity of 490. The Ministry of Justice responded to the issue of prison overcrowding and the treatment of prisoners by calling for more funds for prison expansion. Five additional facilities have been opened and three have been undergoing renovation since 1999 as part of this plan. The Government also approved the budget for a series of detention facilities in outlying provinces, which are expected both to reduce overcrowding and to locate prisoners closer to their families. During the year 2001, the Government built a new facility in Guacimo and expanded facilities in San Carlos and Cartago. Physical plant improvements completed in October at San Sebastian have contributed to a safer and healthier environment with more modern medical and educational facilities. Female prisoners are held separately in conditions that generally are considered fair; however, in November the women's prison held 43 percent more inmates than its intended capacity. Juveniles are held in separate detention facilities in campus-like conditions that generally are considered good. The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors.


The Government continued to identify domestic violence against women and children as a serious societal problem. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide. During the year, the autonomous National Institute for Women (INAMU) provided assistance to 5,866 women, including counseling and lodging for battered women in INAMU shelters. INAMU also maintained a domestic abuse hotline, receiving 6,021 calls in 2003.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Domestic Violence and Sexual Crimes for the San Jose area investigated 45 cases of disobeying a court order, 83 cases of assault, 82 cases of armed assault, 124 cases of battery, 3 cases of aggravated battery, 15 cases of abandonment, 80 cases of verbal threats, 5 cases of attempted killing, and 1 killing. In addition, the Office reported that it was investigating 14 cases of parental abuse of custodial rights and 28 cases of parental abduction of children. In 2003, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Domestic Violence and Sexual Crimes prosecuted 448 cases related to domestic violence. INAMU reported that 20 women and girls were killed in incidents of domestic violence, compared with 29 during 2003.

The Law Against Domestic Violence establishes mechanisms to help victims. The authorities incorporated training on handling domestic violence cases into the basic training course for new police personnel. The law requires public hospitals to report cases of domestic violence against women. It also denies the perpetrator possession of the family home in favor of the victim. The public prosecutor, police, and Ombudsman had offices dedicated to this problem.

The law defines various types of rape and provides sanctions dependent upon a victim's age and other factors such as an assailant's use of violence or position of influence over the victim. The Penal Code provides for sanctions from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape and 2 to 10 years in prison for statutory rape. As of November, authorities reported approximately 5,400 cases of sex crimes, compared to 5,226 cases in 2003. Authorities attributed the increase to a greater public awareness of the need to report these types of crimes. Approximately 17 percent of the prison population was serving sentences as a result of convictions related to sex crimes.

Prostitution is legal for persons over the age of 18. The Penal Code prohibits individuals from promoting or facilitating the prostitution of individuals of either sex, independent of the individual's age, and the penalty is increased if the victim is under the age of 18. There are no specific laws against sex tourism, which is a growing problem; however, law enforcement agencies initiated investigations under existing legislation that prohibits the promotion of prostitution. The Government and several advocacy groups also initiated awareness campaigns publicizing the dangers of sex tourism and its association with child sexual exploitation.

The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions and the Ministry of Labor generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution. The Ombudsman's office received 66 complaints of sexual harassment from May 2003 until April.

The Law for the Promotion of the Social Equality of Women prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the Government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The Government maintained offices for gender issues in almost all ministries and most parastatal organizations, and the Ministry of Labor was responsible for investigating allegations of gender discrimination. INAMU implemented programs that promoted gender equality and publicized the rights of women.

According to a 2003 U.N. Development Program report, women over age 15 represented 36.6 percent of the labor force. Most women (76 percent) worked in the service sector, with the remainder working in industry (17 percent) and agriculture (6 percent). Women occupied 45 percent of professional and technical positions and 30 percent of legislative, senior official, and managerial positions. The Constitution and Labor Code require that women and men receive equal pay for equal work; however, the estimated earned income for women was approximately 78 percent of the earned income for men, despite the fact that 20 percent of women in the workforce had some university instruction, compared with 11 percent of men.


The Government was committed to children's rights and welfare through well-funded systems of public education and medical care. It also established a legal framework intended to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards. Primary education is compulsory, free, and universal. The law requires 6 years of primary and 3 years of secondary education for all children, and attendance is required until age 15. School attendance requirements were generally enforced. The Ministry of Education reported that, as of July, the estimated primary school dropout rate was 1.4 percent, and the secondary school dropout rate was 4.4 percent. The law guarantees equal access to education and health care services to all minors, regardless of gender or legal residency status.

In recent years, the autonomous National Institute for Children (PANI) increased public awareness of abuse of children, which remained a problem. During the year, PANI assisted 4,511 children, including 564 cases of substance abuse, 2,435 cases of physical abuse, and 1,425 cases of sexual abuse. Traditional attitudes and the inclination to treat such crimes as misdemeanors sometimes hampered legal proceedings against those who committed crimes against children.

The Government, security officials, and child advocacy organizations acknowledged that the commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.

In 2003, the NGO Casa Alianza estimated that of the approximately 1,500 children living on the street, 76 percent were addicted to drugs and 29 percent survived by prostitution.


Although the law prohibits the trafficking in women and minors for the purpose of prostitution, comprehensive legislation that addresses all forms of trafficking does not exist. NGO representatives stated that the absence of such legislation hindered the prosecution of trafficking cases. There were reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country.

The law provides for sentences of 2 to 10 years in prison for anyone who engages in sex with a minor and 4 to 10 years in prison for those who managed or promoted child prostitution. The Government enforced this law and raided brothels and arrested clients.

As of September, authorities had charged one individual with a trafficking-related crime. In 2003, authorities made 14 arrests based on charges of child sexual exploitation. Authorities indicted eight defendants and placed six suspects in investigative detention pending formal charges. By year's end, four of those arrested in 2003 were convicted, and the case against a fifth individual was dropped.

Government agencies responsible for combating trafficking and child sexual exploitation included the Special Prosecutor on Domestic Violence and Sex Crimes, the Judicial Investigative Police, the National Institute for Children, the Foreign Ministry, the Labor Ministry, the Public Security Ministry, and the Tourism Ministry.

Cases of trafficking involved persons from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Russia, and countries of Eastern Europe. While evidence suggested that most trafficked persons remained in the country, some transited to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Some female citizens, generally from impoverished backgrounds, also were trafficked to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Traffickers often recruited victims with a promise of secure employment and good pay.

Child prostitution was a serious problem. PANI estimated that 3,000 children suffered from commercial sexual exploitation and identified particular risks for street children in the urban areas of San Jose, Limon, and Puntarenas. During the year, PANI reported that it provided assistance to minors in 87 separate cases of commercial sexual exploitation.

The Special Prosecutor's Office on Domestic Violence and Sexual Crimes has processed 66 child sexual exploitation cases and convicted 31 citizens and 9 foreigners for child sexual exploitation crimes since 1999.

From January through June, Casa Alianza presented the Government with 54 complaints for promoting the prostitution of minors, 28 complaints for sexual relations with minors, and 7 complaints for the production of child pornography. The Special Prosecutor's office reported that, as of September, it was investigating 31 cases of sexual relations with minors.

A governmental Inter-Ministerial Group on Trafficking made efforts to raise awareness of trafficking issues and sexual exploitation of children and encourage law enforcement and prevention measures, particularly at the local level; however, these efforts were hampered by a lack of resources.

There were limited formal mechanisms specifically designed to aid trafficked victims; however, the Government offered indirect assistance, such as stay-in-school programs, to child victims of trafficking. Victims were not granted temporary or permanent residence status and often were deported immediately to their country of origin.


Costa Rica is an important transshipment country for the smuggling of cocaine from South America to the United States, as demonstrated by record seizures during both 1997 and 1998. In May 1998, the Legislative Assembly enacted legal reforms that strengthened controls within the banking sector against drug money laundering. The GOCR established a Financial Investigations Unit within the Joint Counternarcotics Intelligence Center. In December 1998, the United States and Costa Rica signed an important, comprehensive bilateral Maritime Counterdrug Agreement. This accord awaits ratification by the Legislative Assembly. Costa Rica is a Party to the 1988 United Nations Drug Convention.

Costa Rica's location on the Central American isthmus makes it important as a transshipment country and temporary storage area for cocaine being smuggled to the United States and Europe, although we do not yet have evidence of sufficient quantities to have a significant effect on the U.S. During the first eleven months of 1998, authorities seized record amounts of cocaine--over eight metric tons--as well as eighteen kilograms of heroin. In December, President Clinton designated Costa Rica and three other Central American nations as "countries of concern" because of the flow of illicit drugs through the region and the increased vulnerability caused by Hurricane Mitch. Faced with enhanced interdiction capabilities by Costa Rican officials, traffickers have used diverse methods, including tractor-trailers, smaller land vehicles, go- fast boats, commercial ships, human couriers, and small aircraft. Costa Ricans have become increasingly concerned over local consumption of crack cocaine and violent crimes associated with drug use and trafficking. The GOCR has attempted to meet the serious threats posed by drug smuggling by adopting strict anti-drug measures. Nonetheless, resource constraints continue to limit enforcement.

The Rodriguez Administration, which assumed office in May 1998, continued efforts by the previous Government to professionalize executive branch police forces under the National Police Code enacted in 1994. All new recruits must undergo training at the Public Security Ministry's National Police School. The Judicial Investigative Organization and the Public Prosecutor's Office enacted a new Criminal Procedures Code, beginning in January 1998, that requires police investigators and prosecutors to work closely in all criminal cases. In May 1998, the Legislative Assembly approved major legal reforms that established strict controls within the banking sector against drug money laundering. In June, the GOCR established a Financial Investigations Unit within the Joint Counternarcotics Intelligence Center to identify possible instances of drug money laundering. In December, the USG and the GOCR signed a comprehensive bilateral Maritime Counternarcotics Agreement that incorporates all six operational procedures from the model text for such accords. This agreement awaits ratification by the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly.

Bilateral cooperation against drug trafficking resulted in another consecutive year of record seizures. Relations among U.S. law enforcement agencies and GOCR counternarcotics police officials, including the Narcotics Section of the Judicial Investigative Organization and the Drug Control Police of the Public Security Ministry, remain close and productive. In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Costa Rican Government hosted the annual International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) in San Jose. U.S. and GOCR law enforcement entities routinely share information and conduct joint operations. Members of the Public Security Ministry's Special Support Police (PAE), also known as the "Mountain Police," search for and manually destroy marijuana fields in the mountainous regions of northern and southern Costa Rica. In June, this unit destroyed over 510,000 marijuana plants, some measuring twelve feet high, in the Talamanca Mountains with transportation support from helicopters and aircrews of Joint Task Force Bravo deployed from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. In October the GOCR arrested major money laundering suspect Josef Mordok, who later effected his escape through bribery of low level prison officials while awaiting extradition to the U.S. GOCR authorities are investigating the circumstances of his escape. The National Drug Prevention Council (CENADRO)--formerly known as the National Drug Council (CONADRO)--supervises demand reduction efforts throughout the country and serves as the custodian for assets seized from drug traffickers. The Drug Department of the Public Health Ministry operates an effective program to license the import and distribution of precursor chemicals and prescription medicines.

The Judicial Investigative Organization operates a small, but highly professional, Narcotics Section that specializes in investigating international drug trafficking. This unit routinely conducts complex investigations of drug smuggling organizations, resulting in the arrests of many drug traffickers and the confiscation of cocaine. The Narcotics Section uses the full range of investigative techniques permitted under the country's progressive anti-drug statutes, including use of wiretaps, controlled deliveries, and undercover agents. The Drug Control Police of the Public Security Ministry investigates both domestic and international drug smuggling and distribution. Most of the eighteen kilograms of heroin seized during 1998 resulted from the detection efforts of Drug Control Police officials at the Juan Santamaria International Airport.

President Rodriguez has worked energetically to deter corruption among public officials. One of his first acts involved the issuance of an executive order designed to reduce conflicts of interest among public officials. He also requested that National Consultation Committees discuss measures to deter corruption, among other issues. On August 31, 1998, a three-judge panel announced a guilty verdict against former Legislative Assembly Deputy Leonel Villalobos for his participation in international trafficking of cocaine to the United States and later sentenced him to twelve years in prison. This court also sentenced a drug supplier to a five-year jail term.

The U.S. and Costa Rica extradition treaty is in force. The Costa Rica and U.S. are also parties to bilateral narcotics drug agreements dating from 1975 and 1976. Costs Rica is party to the 1988 UN Drug convention and all other UN narcotics agreements. In December, the United States and Costa Rica signed a bilateral Maritime Counterdrug Agreement, designed to promote closer cooperation in the interdiction of maritime smuggling. This important accord awaits ratification by the Legislative Assembly. At the same time, both countries signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on Maritime Cooperation and Assistance, under which the United States agreed to take steps toward securing technical and training assistance for the Costa Rican Maritime Surveillance Service. The GOCR also signed an agreement with the Spanish Government for the provision of technical assistance and training to Public Security Ministry police officials.

PAE personnel destroyed marijuana cultivations found in the remote mountainous areas of Costa Rica near the Panama border, in the Caribbean region near Limon and Talamanca, and in the Guanacaste Province of northwestern Costa Rica. Such cultivations are usually small and sometimes intermixed with legitimate crops. As previously mentioned, PAE personnel destroyed over 510,000 plants during a two-week period. They also discovered implements for packing the marijuana--a possible indication that cultivators have begun to export this drug crop. Costa Rica does not produce other illicit drug crops.

Costa Rica has become an important transshipment and temporary storage area for cocaine being smuggled from South America to the United States and Europe. As a result, President Clinton designated Costa Rica and three other Central American nations in early December as a "country of concern" for the transit of illicit drugs to the United States and we are monitoring t if such drugs have a significant effect on the U.S.. Smugglers periodically use Costa Rica as a temporary storage area for cocaine before repackaging and sending it onward in containers transported by tractor-trailers and commercial ships. Costa Rican officials have themselves condemned this activity as a primary threat to their natural security and social stability.

Costa Ricans have become increasingly concerned over local consumption, especially of crack cocaine. Abuse appears highest in the Central Valley (including the major cities of San Jose, Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia), the port cities of Limon and Puntarenas, the north near Barro del Colorado, and along the southern border. CENADRO oversees drug prevention committees throughout the country. The Costa Rican Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Foundation, modeled after its U.S. counterpart, conducts drug awareness programs at public and private schools.

U.S. Government goals include. enhancing drug detection and interdiction capabilities; supporting efforts to locate and destroy marijuana fields; supporting drug awareness programs; enhancing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system; and strengthening money-laundering controls. Specific objectives include. enhancing interdiction of drug shipments in tractor-trailers; improving maritime interdiction, including through the signing and ratification of a bilateral agreement; providing specialized training and equipment to counterdrug police personnel; supporting efforts to professionalize Public Security Ministry police; and improving the operational capabilities of the Public Security Ministry's Air and Maritime Surveillance Sections.

The U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) sponsored numerous training programs in which Costa Rican officials participated during 1998. In May, fifteen Costa Rican officials attended a special U.S. Customs Regional Overseas Enforcement Training in Vulcan, Panama along with Panamanian law enforcement personnel. Twice during 1998, in July and in August, the State Department sponsored two-week, regional Advanced Drug and Financial Investigations Training (ADFIT) Courses in San Jose. Staff from the International Law Enforcement Academy ran these in-residence courses. Keynote speakers included President Rodriguez and Public Security Minister Lizano. Four Costa Rican officers attended an INL-sponsored Mid-Level Management Course conducted by the U.S. Customs Service in Miami, Florida, in December. The United States and Costa Rica also signed a case-specific asset-sharing agreement to permit the sharing of proceeds from the successful prosecution of U.S. drug trafficker Chula.

The Embassy used counterdrug funds to provide firearms training to thirteen Drug Control Police Officers in April. We also paid part of the costs of a U.S. Coast Guard Curriculum Infusion Course for the Maritime Surveillance Section in July. This training will enable Costa Rican officials to develop and conduct their own boarding courses. The Embassy also provided partial scholarships for English language training for several police officers involved as instructors in the DARE drug awareness program.

Other U.S. federal agencies also sponsored seminars in Costa Rica. In January 1998, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service representatives conducted a five-day money-laundering seminar. In September, the U.S. Justice Department hosted a regional conference on Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering in San Jose from September 14 to 17. President Rodriguez served as the keynote speaker at this conference.

The USG's counternarcotics program also sponsored the attendance of GOCR officials at various counternarcotics conferences, including the June 30 to July 1 meeting of the Egmont Group to discuss money laundering controls; the September meeting of the OAS Group of Experts on Precursor Chemical Controls in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia; the October meeting of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to discuss a multilateral evaluation mechanism; the October 20 to 22 meeting of the Group of Experts on Money Laundering Controls at Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the November 17 to 20 Plenary Meeting of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force at Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. In June, the USG counternarcotics program sponsored a visit by two officials to the Defense Reutilization Marketing Office in Panama to inspect excess defense articles.

In May, the USG delivered a twenty-two foot patrol boat and a two hundred horsepower outboard motor to the GOCR. The Maritime Section uses this vessel to conduct patrols near the Caribbean coast and along inland waterways. Also in May, the USG delivered some 28,000 dollars worth of computer equipment, including a powerful server and personal computers, to the Joint Counternarcotics Intelligence Center. In June, the Embassy bought two 18-foot inflatable craft for the Maritime Section. The USG also purchased paints and other supplies for the Maritime Section in August. In November, the USG delivered nearly 40,000 dollars worth of secure radio equipment, purchased through the State Department, to the Narcotics Section of the Judicial Investigative Organization. The USG also contributed the first month's rent for the rental of a warehouse by the National Drug Prevention Council to store assets seized from traffickers. Additionally, we provided some funds to the Joint Counternarcotics Intelligence Center to facilitate the purchase of new cars through a trade-in of used vehicles.

The United States seeks to improve GOCR capabilities to curtail the use of Costa Rica as a drug transshipment and temporary storage area, discourage drug consumption, and fight money laundering. The USG will cooperate with the GOCR in its efforts to professionalize its police forces and implement recently approved controls against money laundering. Once the recently signed the bilateral Maritime Counternarcotics Agreement is approved by the Costa Rican Legislature, USG/GOCR will intensify as we cooperate to increase the GOCR's capabilities to implement the Maritime Agreement.


Internet research assisted by Ernesto Garcia and Tricia Pedroza

Criminology Links
Criminal Codes
Incidence/Trends in Crime
Drug Trafficking
Legal System
Trafficking in Persons

Other Links
Online literature
Travel tips
International criminal justice agencies
Legal system
News and media
Correspondent email addresses
Distance learning courses
Comparative criminology-related sites

A Comparative Criminology Tour of the World
Dr. Robert Winslow
San Diego State University