Backbone of the Criminal Justice System in Mexico
For many years, our system of criminal justice in
Mexico was slow, inefficient and ineffective, which
caused inadequate disposition of cases. Eventually, the
system collapsed under the heavy workloads of courts
and prosecutors’ offices. As a consequence, many
crimes were committed with impunity because the
victims never reported them.
The old system of criminal justice focused on punishment. A crime was considered an offense against the
state, not against persons. Individuals found guilty of
crimes often went to prison and did not receive adequate treatment or preparation for reentry into civil
society. It was common for offenders to enter prison
after being found guilty of minor crimes and leave
prison years later, only to commit more serious crimes.
Recidivism rates were high. The old system left everyone involved dissatisfied, whether victim, offender,
prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, or member of
society at large.
Today things are changing because the criminal justice system is making a 180-degree turn. In 2016, a new
system went into effect, which incorporated oral advocacy and other characteristics similar to the criminal
justice system in the United States. The backbone of
the new system also incorporated alternative forms
of conflict resolution, including restorative justice. The
changes to the system were not improvised; in fact,
they began with the reform of the Mexican Constitution in 2008. That reform was followed by eight years
of intensive investment to train personnel and build
infrastructure that would make the new criminal justice paradigm a reality. The new paradigm is now in
place, and we continue to learn and make changes that
improve every step of the process.
Restorative justice as now practiced in Mexico allows
the criminal justice system to suspend its view of
crimes as offenses against the state and its laws. The
system can now view crimes as offenses against individual victims and communities, using an integrated
approach to attend to the consequences of crimes.
Not only does it resolve the legal situation between the
parties, but it also attends to the damages and needs of
the victims. It encourages an inclusive and collaborative
environment in which offenders may take responsibility for repairing the damages they caused.
Some Mexican states have already successfully
implemented systems of restorative justice. In 2013,
Tamaulipas, for example, began to develop processes
of restorative justice for adults and adolescents after
providing extensive training to facilitators in order to
ensure the provision of quality services. An incomplete
list of other states that have successfully imple-
mented systems of restorative justice includes Nuevo
León, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. Mex-
ico City, the country’s capital, has also implemented a
ALTERNATIVE MECHANISMS FOR THE
SOLUTION OF CRIMINAL CONFLICT
The National Law of Alternative Mechanisms for the
Solution of Controversies in Criminal Matters, which
went into effect in 2014, authorizes mediation, conciliation and restorative meetings as three alternative
processes. These processes may be used in the following types of cases: (1) crimes that are prosecuted by
querella, “a criminal complaint or charge or accusation
brought by [an] injured party for purposes of obtaining a
conviction as well as an indemnification for injuries suffered” or equivalent requirement of an offended party;
(2) crimes resulting from negligence; and ( 3) property
crimes committed without violence against persons.
Examples of crimes that can be resolved through the
alternative processes include robbery, fraud, negligent
homicide, property damage and bodily injuries.
Mediation is an approach through which the parties
attempt to solve a conflict in a voluntary manner with
the help of a facilitator who facilitates communication
and understanding between them in a collaborative
manner. In this mechanism, the facilitator may not suggest or contribute possible solutions to the conflict.
Conciliation is an approach in which the parties to the
conflict, together with a facilitator, propose options for
solving the controversy. Facilitator proposals must be
based on objective criteria.
Unlike the other two approaches, participation in the
restorative meeting may be more inclusive. The victim,
offender and, if applicable, members of the affected
community may voluntarily seek, construct and propose options for solutions to the controversy. The goal
is to achieve an agreement that addresses individual
needs and responsibilities, as well as reintegration of
the victim and offender into the community in order
to reconstruct the social fabric. Restorative meetings,
which are the focus of this article, tend to have the
About the Authors
is an attorney,
Director of the
Center of Alternative Mechanisms
for the Solution
of Conflicts of the
Judicial Branch of
the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico.