As part of its portfolio of technical assistance projects focused on alternatives to incarceration (ATIs), the Institutional Strengthening Unit has collaborated with Mexico for well over a decade in the development, adoption, and expansion of therapeutic justice programs there.
Like many ATIs, Mexico’s therapeutic justice programs are primarily designed for criminal offenders who have an underlying substance abuse disorder driving their criminal conduct. Such conduct does not necessarily refer to crimes related to substance use (e.g., possession), but also to those committed while under the influence of psychoactive substances (e.g., driving under the influence) and those committed to obtain money to purchase such substances (e.g., theft).
These programs provide these justice-involved individuals with the option of choosing treatment and rehabilitation under judicial supervision, and in coordination with a multidisciplinary team, instead of incarceration. Successful completion of the program results in the pending charges being dropped. Should the program not be successfully completed, the participant simply returns to traditional criminal justice proceedings. Moreover, as participation is completely voluntary, participants can choose to leave the program at any time.
By focusing on the treatment of the underlying substance abuse disorder, ATI programs address the underlying cause of the criminal conduct. They also account for the possibility of relapses, which are seen as a normal part of the treatment process. As such, alternatives to incarceration can help break the "revolving door" of criminal behavior, substance abuse, and imprisonment.
Since 2008, CICAD has informally assisted Mexico with its first ATI pilot program, a therapeutic justice treatment court in Guadalupe, Nuevo Léon. In 2013, this collaboration coalesced around a multi-year project that assisted with the expansion of the pilot program in Nuevo León; the development of pilots in four additional Mexican states (Chihuahua, Durango, Estado de México, and Morelos); and the creation of a methodological guide for therapeutic justice in Mexico (which was superseded in 2020 by the Mexican Guía de Justicia Terapéutica). It also sponsored the publication of the first diagnostic study of therapeutic justice programs in Mexico, centered on the program in Guadalupe.
In 2020, the Government of Mexico and the OAS agreed to renew the project and expand its scope further. This second phase aims to (1) bolster and expand the existing five programs; (2) establish additional pilot programs across Mexico; (3) develop a curriculum and other materials to train officials in the future; (4) train a cadre of expert Mexican trainers to provide long-term sustainability; and (5) further develop monitoring and evaluation activities surrounding the program. As of September 2022, one new Mexican state has launched pilot programs (Hidalgo), with programs in several other states in advanced stages of planning.
These programs employ a multi-sector approach, combining expertise from the criminal justice system, public health, and social integration services. As such, they also stimulate collaboration between those sectors more broadly, and help provide more comprehensive rehabilitation options to eligible participants. Additionally, the program has presented the Case Care Management (CCM) model to Mexican states as part of its technical assistance activities.