Extradition – A Weapon Against Organized Crime

Extradition to the United States. For years, major Colombian drug lords feared it. “Living by the motto ‘Better a tomb in Colombia than a prison cell in the United States,’ [Pablo] Escobar unleashed a wave of car bombings and assassinations that forced the Colombian government to water down extradition laws.”  Extradition between the United States and Colombia was banned until 1997, and in recent years, it seems that heads of Colombian drug cartels once again have something to fear. According to a recent CNN article, more than 1,300 of Colombia’s top crime bosses and their most dangerous enforcers have been extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges there. The article states that the “beauty” of these extraditions is not their “power to stop drug smuggling.” (Apparently the evidence is minimal that extraditions have any direct effect on drug trafficking). The “beauty”, according to William Rempel, is that extraditions in Colombia “continue to splinter the leadership of trafficking gangs, keeping them in a perpetual state of rebuilding. In short, extradition disorganizes organized crime.”

As a result, Mexico, a country that is experiencing some of the worst drug violence in the world, is beginning to show more willingness to extradite some of its major drug lords accused of trafficking offenses in the United States. However, currently there are only about a dozen Mexican drug lords in various stages of extradition. Some law enforcement officials who advocate for making extraditions easier between the United States and Mexico say “there is no prison anywhere in Mexico or Colombia that puts these guys out of business like U.S. prisons.” On the other hand, critics point to the fact that increased extraditions to the United States means increased federal prosecutions. Increased federal prosecutions and more convictions, in turn lead to expensive extended incarcerations and a possible strain on the system. Do you think Mexico should continue to embrace extraditions of drug smugglers to the United States if they are accused of federal trafficking offenses? Do you think extraditions could significantly impact the horrible drug violence that organized cartels inflict on Mexico? And is it possible that there are any factors that could possibly not make this policy as effective in Mexico as it has been in Colombia?


  1. I think extradition is a good solution for countries such as Colombia and Mexico that are having major problems with drug-related violence. Extradition may be the only way to get drug leaders away from those in their gang. If the leader is in another country it makes it a lot harder to keep the gang operating smoothly, and I think that is why extradition has proved effective. This may be a great situation for Colombia and Mexico, but it is important to consider what that will do to the prison system in the United States.

    It is very beneficial for Colombia and Mexico to use the United States as a place for extradition, but I am not sure it is too wise for the United States to take on these extra cases and prisoners. American resources will be used to deal with these foreign criminals, and I am not sure how long we can sustain a system like that. It will be interesting to see how this issue shakes out in the future.

  2. In regards to the costs of such a project, while it is obviously expensive, I think the results would be worthwhile for the reasons mentioned above and for the following reasons as well. First off, while hiding in a cave in Columbia or elsewhere is certainly not the most luxurious accommodations; it still provides a much greater level of contact with the outside world, as opposed to a prison cell. As such, they may still be able to take part in ordering and aiding atrocities on a scale that they would not be able to do while incarcerated. Furthermore, while going after lower level drug offenders can be productive to some degree, going after drug organizations on a management level will obviously put a greater dent in these organizations. Lastly, as mentioned in the article, even if these outside countries were willing to incarcerate these offenders, their prison systems are typically not as developed as the American system which is problematic in terms of containment.

  3. Given the possible strain on the United States judicial system, I still think these extraditions are an effective way to curb drug-related violence in Mexico and ultimately, the United States. In the past few years, cartels and other drug trafficking organizations in Mexico have extended their reach into the United States and Canada. There are numerous cities across the United States where Mexican cartels and their affiliates either supply drugs to distributors or have their own distribution networks. It is also believed that these cartels are responsible for violent activity in places like Tuscon and even Alabama. I’ve always advocated for strategies that go after drug kingpins rather than low-level soldiers or offenders. So, if the extraditions, which are aimed at bringing heads of cartels to justice, disorganize violent cartels, there is a possibility that their activity in the United States could also be curbed.

  4. Considering that our prisons are over-crowded as is, extradition, even if highly effective at dismantling drug trafficking organizations, may not be the most practical and cost-effective means of doing so. Rather than place an increased burden on America’s already over-burdened prison system, a more logical solution would be for foreign countries to make the appropriate reforms to their own prison systems in order to effectively police drug-traffickers.
    As for the effectiveness in separating drug traffickers such that there is a “splintering of leadership,” an equally effective means of dismantling drug cartels is for foreign countries to implement an asset forfeiture program. If implemented judiciously and not abused, asset forfeiture laws may have an even greater affect at dismantling drug cartels in that they deprive drug traffickers of the funds they need to keep their operation in effect.

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