The Correctional Management Institute of Texas recently hosted a delegation of judges and restorative justice professionals from Mexico on a mission to learn more about various aspects of the Texas criminal justice system.
The five-member delegation, which represented three states in Mexico, was provided overviews of specialty courts, reentry and integration programs, and restorative justice efforts in Texas during the three day visit. They also toured several programs in the Wynne and Hamilton Units at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, including manufacturing industries, a substance abuse treatment program, and rehabilitation efforts, and met with the Brazos County Community Supervision and Corrections Department.
“This was an exciting opportunity to host a delegation of criminal justice professionals from our neighboring country of Mexico,” said Doug Dretke, Executive Director of the Correctional Management Institute. “Not only did this provide us an opportunity to share some of the important initiatives that have been developed within our criminal justice system, it also provide us a unique opportunity to learn about some of their efforts, especially with alternative dispute resolution, mediation, and restorative justice practices, within their system.”
The delegation learns about educational opportunities at the College of Criminal Justice.The Mexican states represented included Mexico, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. Among the delegates were Martha Laura Garza Estrada, State Director of the Center for Alternative Mechanisms for the Solution of Conflicts of the Judicial Branch of the State of Nuevo León; Roberto Montoya, State Director of the Center for Alternative Mechanisms for the Solution of Conflicts of the Judicial Branch of the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico; Martha Camargo, Judge Director of the Center for Mediation, Conciliation and Restorative Justice of the Judiciary of the State of Mexico; Georgina Pesqueira, Specialist in Restorative Justice and Mediation by the Mediation Institute of Mexico, SC; and Edgar Ulises López Balderas, Mediator of the Center for Alternative Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution of the Judicial Branch of the State of Tamaulipas.
In 2008, changes to the Mexican Constitution mandated a reform of the country’s judicial system. Mexico has until 2016 to change its system from closed door sessions often done in writing to adversarial public trials in open court. As a result of the changes, judicial systems are adopting alternative dispute resolution programs.
The group met with many correctional agencies in Texas.“They were impressed with drugs court and the penitentiary system, especially the programs offered inside prison and efforts at preparing offenders for reentry to the community,” said Eddie Mendoza of the Orange County Community Supervision and Corrections Department
Judge Camargo said she was impressed with many programs in the prison system, including substance abuse treatment and resources for special populations with mental health issues. She said one of the biggest challenges is getting judges onboard with innovating the system.
“Our challenge is getting judges on our side,” said Judge Camargo. “We have to coordinate with the judges to show them this is a real alternative and different way to get justice. Another challenge we face is how to apply these good practices in a different social setting.”
The use of restorative justice is growing in Mexico, with many states having their own alternative dispute centers for mediations between victims and offenders. In poorer rural state, such as Tamaulipas, they have developed mobile mediation units or offer mediation online.
Martha Laura Garza Estrada said Nuevo Leon has had great openness on the part of judges to refer cases to alternative justice in criminal matters.
Mexican officials discuss restorative justice in Texas. During their three day visit, the delegation received briefings from a wide variety of programs and initiatives. The National Center for State Courts provided an overview of high performing specialty courts, such as drug courts. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice provided sessions on reentry and integration programs and initiatives as well as tours of the vocational, treatment and rehabilitation programs at the Wynne and Hamilton Units.
John McGuire, Probation Director of the Brazos County Community Supervision and Correction Department, presented information on probation programs in their county, and Tarrant County gave an update on the Cornerstone Assistance Network, a faith based program which provides comprehensive services to ex-offenders reentering the community. In addition, the group received an update on restorative justice efforts in Texas from the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Lubbock County offered information on its District Resolution Center.
Finally, at the Correctional Management Institute of Texas, the delegation had the opportunity to meet with the Executive Forum for Criminal Justice Planners, which include managers from counties across Texas who are charged with overseeing the criminal justice system in their jurisdictions as well as the Texas Association of Drug Court Professionals, a professional organization for drugs courts in the state.
The Mexican delegation said they were grateful for the support they have received from programs in Texas.