Assisting Mexico with Justice and Police Reforms

For centuries, Mexico suffered from a closed and inefficient justice system plagued by corruption, human rights transgressions, and impunity.

In 2004, USAID initiated a program to promote reforms in the national justice system, beginning with the states. By 2006, Mexico began work on a multi-year process to redefine the state and federal-level system. The country is now in the midst of a transformation from an archaic form of criminal justice to one that will bring a presumption of innocence, pre-trial services, public oral trials and increased transparency.

Transition to the new system will be a lengthy process, requiring development of new processes, practices, and training for qualified staff to implement the new system.

In July 2009, USAID began setting up the system for legal reforms under the State Department’s Merida Initiative, with MSI as its implementing partner. The project is creating ways to work with state and federal justice institutions to strengthen their capabilities, improve transparency and accountability to better serve citizens. Local project staff work with eight states and the federal government, helping the country’s criminal code reforms conform to the new constitution.

Legal experts worked with academic scholars and Mexican government officials to draft a new federal criminal procedures code. In 2010, 600 people attended a forum to discuss the code, including the Mexican President.

The program involves training, public outreach techniques and education. Ultimately, these efforts will help bring Mexico in line with the global standards set forth in the U.N. and Inter-American Conventions in support of justice reforms and against corruption.

Federal and state judges, prosecutors, and public defenders are being trained under the new system.

“The access by the public makes [oral hearings] truly public proceedings,” a participant said after visiting the United States’ and seeing its judicial system. “This is a factor that can reduce corruption.”

In addition, MSI has helped to create 32 alternative justice centers to alleviate long standing backlogs and delays, and 20 new trainers have been certified. For instance, the Oaxaca Alternative Justice Center averaged 135-220 new cases monthly, resulting in a 50 percent reduction of cases referred to trial. The program led to the successful prosecution and 10-year prison sentence of a major human trafficker. Three additional traffickers have been indicted at the federal level.

The project also trained 450 staff members at Victim Assistance Centers covering a broad range of victims’ services.

MSI’s local staff has also helped to design a training program and continuing education programs for police, using international standards.