Detention as a Last Resort for Teens in Guerrero

“Now we have concrete measures that are more transparent,” said Elizabeth, the juvenile detention center psychologist in Guerrero state. Juvenile Justice Advocates International (JJAI) finished our first training on implementing our Pre-Trial Detention Risk Assessment Instrument in Guerrero last November, making it the first state to fully implement the National Risk Assessment Model adopted last year.

With the passing of the National Law for an Integral Justice System for Adolescents in 2016, Mexican States seek to reduce the use of detention, including requiring a pre-trial detention risk assessment. JJAI designed the tool as a set of questionnaires that analyze teens’ risk of not appearing at a hearing. More specifically, the tool not only assesses the risk of not appearing at a hearing, it also determines the risk to the victim of the crime committed by the teen and the risk of obstruction. Why is the implementation of a Risk Assessment a win for JJAI and Guerrero? It offers judges a clear guideline to determine whether to sentence a teen to pre-trial detention or pre-trial release and minimizes the risk that they will hand down arbitrary or discriminatory decisions. It also means that teens in conflict with the law are offered an alternative to detention and a chance at reintegration into society no matter their background.

Elizabeth, a psychologist in the city of Chilpancingo, is already seeing firsthand the benefits of the Risk Assessment. She lauded the tool’s transparency and recounted how she used it to advocate for a teen awaiting his trial. He has yet to receive his high school diploma, and Elizabeth used the Risk Assessment to show that her client wasn’t a flight risk because he was dedicated to finishing his education. The judge handed down a sentence of pre-trial release because, thanks to the Risk Assessment, he was able to take into account that it was in the teen’s best interest to devote time to his academic endeavors.

For the Risk Assessment to be successful, it is crucial that the State gets behind the tool and advocates for its use. Azucena Piñeda Guillermo, Judge for Control and Specialized Prosecution for Juvenile Justice in Guerrero, mentioned the importance of the creation of an Administrative Authority that will support the 2016 law and encourage the use of the Risk Assessment tool. Additionally, Elizabeth emphasized the importance that the detention center will made participation in the necessary assessment training mandatory, with key staff having finished the training earlier this month. She mentioned that the commitment to completing the training was crucial for preparing key staff to understand and use the Risk Assessment correctly and effectively. Now that it has officially been implemented, JJAI looks forward to monitoring any developments and staying informed of how the State addresses and overcomes any roadblocks that may be a hindrance to its execution.

Though there are challenges, Azucena and Elizabeth are both optimistic about the systemic changes that the Risk Assessment will bring about in Guerrero. They both regard it as a substantial and indispensable tool for assessing procedural risks. Equally as important, for teens and their families, it will offer hope during a trying time. JJAI looks forward to hearing more success stories similar to that of the teen Elizabeth assisted as we continue to push for reforms within the juvenile justice system.

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