Alejandra smiled when I sat down at her table to talk with her. I met her for the first time two months ago. Today she was reading in the common area of the girl‘s cell block. It was a book of poems. Alejandra likes poetry and sometimes writes her own poems. We spoke for a while. Alejandra has been in the juvenile prison in Chihuahua for five months. Her trial was last week. She received probation and her release is next week. She is mostly excited because her baby boy turns one in September. If everything goes well, Alejandra will be with her baby and the rest of her family for his first birthday. But I am left wondering why was she in pretrial detention for five months. If the judge thought she didn’t deserve a prison sentence, only probation, what could have justified pretrial detention.
Sitting next to Alejandra was Rosi. Rosi is 16 years-old. She was with a group that broke into a house and robbed it. They were caught and returned everything. In Mexico, the crime victim has the right to oppose any plea bargain. In Rosi’s case the victim demanded thousands of pesos in restitution before he would agree to a plea bargain. All of Rosi’s co-defendants have paid restitution, $10,000-$20,000, and are now free on probation. Rosi has to put together $5,000 pesos. She doesn’t know if her mom has the money. Until then Rosi will wait in pretrial detention.
In the room next door was Julieta. Her defense attorney tells her that next month she will probably be sentenced to probation. Julieta was arrested with under a gram of methamphetamine. Northern Mexico is suffering from an epidemic of meth – its cheap, its made in Mexico, and its powerfully addictive. Julieta, like the other girls has high hopes that she will be released soon and get a second chance.
Two-thirds of teens in pretrial detention will be sentenced to probation. They spend an average of 5 months in pretrial detention awaiting a resolution. Most, like Alejandra, Rosi and Julieta, will only be detained while they wait for the slow wheels of the justice system to turn. The Mexican Constitution tells them that they are presumed innocent. Once they are proved guilty, they are released. Que locura…