How can societies restrain their coercive institutions and transition to a more humane criminal justice system? We argue that two main factors explain why torture can persist as a generalized practice in democratic societies: weak institutional protections of the rights of criminal suspects and the militarization of policing, which leads the police to act as if their job were to occupy a war zone. With the use of a large survey of the Mexican prison population and leveraging the date and place of arrest, this paper provides valid causal evidence about how these two explanatory variables shape torture. Our paper provides a grim picture of the survival of authoritarian policing practices in democracies. It also provides novel evidence of the extent to which the abolition of inquisitorial criminal justice institutions - a remnant of colonial legacies and a common trend in the region - has worked to restrain police brutality.