This past week we conducted our first training seminar for juvenile detention center personnel – guards, counselors, social workers and probation officers. We spent a week training them on human rights, prevention of torture, supervising teenagers on release programs and other topics critical for the improvement of Mexico’s juvenile justice system. As we were discussing issues with the training participants, something became very clear to me – these are the people who will make the juvenile justice system succeed. But even with the best trainings, these critical front-line staff will not be able to succeed. They need more from us and from the system.
Guards who have been told that they cannot hit or abuse teenagers but who have no other tools to control their behaviors. Social workers who know it is their duty to do something when a boy or girl appears with bruises or signs of abuse but are pressured by superiors to say nothing. Counselors who want to help these kids but don’t have the office space or personnel to meet the enormous need.
Between us sharing important human rights principles, and these front-line actors’ good intentions, there is a tremendous disconnect. That disconnect means much of what we teach them will never be put into practice. Without better policies inside the prisons, without accountability measures that their directors buy into, and without adequate resources, children will continue to be abused, ignored, and warehoused in detention centers across Mexico.
Training guards and counselors is very important. It is encouraging to see their desire to become more professional and equipped to succeed. But Juvenile Justice Advocates will never be just a training organization. Our demonstration project in Chihuahua State has shown that only through engaging local decision-makers to implement new policies, provide adequate resources and improve practices can well-trained staff succeed. Over the next few months we will be training detention center staff in at least four states in Mexico. It is an exciting opportunity and we hope will lead to more than just training, but open new doors across Mexico for our work.