Feds to Spend $2.5M for Juvenile Justice Reform -- in Central America

June 6, 2014 - 2:33 PM

Guatemala Gang Nightmare

In this Aug. 29, 2012 photo, the leader of the Guatemala branch of the M-18 gang, Aldo Dupie Ochoa Mejia, alias "El Lobo" or "The Wolf," is frisked by prison guards inside the Frajines 1 prison in Guatemala City. Mejia says his gang is considering and willing to make a truce with their rival, the MS-13 gang, such as the one that appears to be holding in El Salvador. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

(CNSNews.com) – The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has announced a $2.5 million grant for juvenile justice reform and pre-trial detention in Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama.

“Corrections systems in these countries suffer from acute overcrowding and inefficiencies which contribute to poor conditions and, at worst, active criminal recruiting and leadership of criminal activities from within prisons,” the grant announcement said.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ (INL) “works throughout Central America to improve corrections administration and professionalism, and seeks to enhance this mission by engaging civil society to promote alternatives to incarceration for low-risk, non-violent offenders, particularly youth and pre-trial detainees.”

The INL’s mission is “to minimize the impact of international crime and illegal drugs on the United States, its citizens, and partner nations by providing effective foreign assistance and fostering global cooperation.”

The mission centers on helping “partner nations establish a capable and accountable criminal justice sector.” It was expanded within the last 10 years to include “stabilizing post-conflict societies through criminal justice sector development and reform.”

The INL’s mission fosters peace and security “by stabilizing and strengthening security institutions to build a global security capacity and by combating narco-trafficking and other transnational crimes such as money laundering and criminal gangs.”

The grant specifies that $1.25 million will go toward juvenile justice reform, which consists of three parts: juvenile justice identification system, juvenile justice community network expansion, and juvenile rehabilitation training.

Another $1.25 million will be designated for pre-trial detention, which has two parts: screening of existing pre-trial detainees through legal clinics at national law schools and judicial working groups on alternative sanctions.

The juvenile justice identification system, the grant said, should “centralize information on juvenile criminal proceedings across the country; facilitate judges and investigators’ access to pertinent information during investigations, sentencing, or when deciding on an alternative detention measure; record information needed to confirm minor’s identity.”

The grant calls for expanding the juvenile justice community support network to assist with the “execution and monitoring of alternative sentencing among the juvenile population for low-risk, non-violent crimes where legal frameworks allow such alternatives.”

“The goal is give minors who have broken the law opportunities for re-socialization through community service, paid work, or studies to learn a profession or trade,” providing them with “realistic alternatives” towards which authorities can direct juvenile offenders, the grant said.

The grant announcement seeks proposals to support the re-socialization and rehabilitation of juveniles by providing “equipment support for halfway houses and/or group homes for minors and young adults; substance abuse treatment programs for minors; psychological counseling; and alternative educational and vocational training mechanisms for minors.”

“The goal is to reduce recidivism among minors who have broken the law through effective rehabilitation, and increase realistic options for early release and/or alternative sentencing mechanisms for appropriate cases,” the grant said.

The grant directs applications to propose ways to “increase access to legal representation among pre-trial detainees and academic engagement with Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Panamanian criminal law by supporting legal clinics at appropriate law schools in the target countries.”

“This project should identify which law schools in the target countries would be most appropriate for a clinic program (or already host one), and develop a proposal for training and mentoring of host country law students, negotiating access to pre-trial detainees accused of non-violent, low-level offenses, and development of best practices for clinic representation,” the grant said.

“INL seeks proposals to organize and direct working groups of Judges, Prosecutors, and Corrections officials to identify opportunities for reducing prison overcrowding, particularly increased use of alternatives to pre-trial detention, including house arrest or reporting requirements, and alternative sanctions for those convicted on non-violent crime, for example probation or community service,” the grant added.

“The goal is to increase the options available to judges at the time of arraignment or of sentencing so that low-risk offenders may be more effectively diverted from the prison system to reduce overcrowding,” the grant said.

The grant was announced on May 30, 2014. The closing date for applications is June 20, 2014. The award ceiling is $2.5 million, and the award floor is $750,000.