Hundreds of Children Never Sent to Prison

Interviewing a teen at the pretrial detention center in 2013.

This year we are starting a new project in Mexico City. We haven’t worked in the Mexico City juvenile detention centers for three years. Today was the first time that I have returned to the pretrial detention center in Mexico City. In 2013, on any given day there were 250 teens in the pretrial detention center, designed for 160. Today, there were 44! Of the six dormitories in the facility, only four have teens. There are over a hundred empty beds. We passed out school supplies to every single one teen. It was overwhelming to see so few children.

A dormitory at the pretrial detention center, filled past capacity in 2013.

In 2013, after a year of working with the Superior Court of Justice in Mexico City, we presented a study recommending that they implement a “Pretrial Services Unit”. It would be only the second such unit for juveniles in all of Mexico. Last year, Mexico City’s juvenile pretrial detention services unit was fully operational. In addition, a new law that was passed means that juveniles no longer have to wait up to a month for a bail hearing but are guaranteed a bail hearing within two days of arrest. As a result, hundreds of children will never spend a single day in detention and hundreds more will be released at their bail hearing.

A row of beds neatly made in 2013.

In 2013, we shone the light on the problems of excessive pretrial detention in Mexico City. This incredible transformation is due to leadership in the Superior Court, an acknowledgement that pretrial detention was excessive, and numerous nonprofit organizations contributing, training and advocating. Now, hundreds of children will avoid detention and as a result will have a chance at a better future. It felt good to come back and see the detention center that was nearly empty in part because of our work.

I will never see the faces of the children who did not get sent to pretrial detention. They will never know that our efforts helped to keep them out of detention. But today, it felt very good to not see them in detention.

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