Sara* was living on the streets, sometimes with different friends, moving from place to place, when she was arrested by the Mexico City police. She was arrested for petty robbery. Sara, like all kids arrested in Mexico City, was first taken to the police detention for juveniles, Agency 57. After three days she was moved to the pretrial detention facility, Comunidad para Mujeres [Women’s Community].
Prison was hard.
Just the four walls. Nobody wanted to talk to me. I was alone.
After six months, her public defender told her that because her crime was petty robbery, she would be given conditional release. There was just one problem. Sara didn’t have any family to take her in. She was alone. But Sara was lucky. Her prison social worker knew about Casa Alianza, a local residential program for homeless teenagers in Mexico City. If Sara would live at one of Casa Alianza’s homes, sign-in with the court every week and complete psychological therapy at Casa Alianza for six months, she would not have to go back to prison.
There was no comparison [between the prison and Casa Alianza]. Casa Alianza had services, people to help me, listen to me. If it hadn’t have been for Casa Alianza, they wouldn’t have let me leave prison, I would have been sent to a prison with much more serious offenders.
But at Casa Alianza, Sara found a support network and friends.
Sara completed secondary school, or junior high, at Casa Alianza. Shortly after leaving, she complete preparatory, or high school. After turning 18, Casa Alianza helps juveniles transition to independent living. Sara got an apartment, she got a job.
Four years later, Sara has a regular job and is married with two kids.
My life is totally different because of Casa Alianza. I was just a girl who didn’t know anything. I was able to study, work, live independently… there was no reason to go back to the streets.
The Children in Prison Project and Casa Alianza
Approximately ten percent of children in prison in Mexico City don’t have any family support, like Sara. Unlike Sara, most do not have the option for conditional release, and none are currently eligible for pretrial release simply because they do not have family. Our project is designed to identify kids like Sara as soon as they are arrested and work directly with the judges on supervised pretrial release. The longer these kids stay in pretrial detention, the higher the risk of re-offending, of suffering from depression and of dropping out of school.
These kids need a second chance more than most. Casa Alianza is these kids’ best chance to get out of prison, complete their court-ordered conditions, finish school had become independent adults. The alternative is a life on the streets, cycling in and out of juvenile and adult prisons, or becoming a victim of human trafficking.
*names and some details have been changed to protect identities.