The Best University Student in Mexico is an Inmate?

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Best University Student in Mexico is an Inmate?“, published on March 6th, 2014.

Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

——

The penal system does not work; criminals that do jail time do not reform. We’ve heard these arguments in Mexico before—and for the most part, they seem to be true.

Stories abound of drug lords continuing to run their operations from within their cells by using unauthorized mobile phones, and of youth that are imprisoned for minor crimes, only to turn  into full-blown criminals once they enter the penal system.

However, one case in Baja California sheds a beacon of light that could be a sign of better things to come in the Mexican penitentiary system.

Pedro Antonio Gerardo Acosta is a 29-year-old inmate in the El Hongo jail near the city of Tecate in Baja California, serving a 20-year sentence for kidnapping. This convicted criminal also recently obtained the highest score in the countryon the national academic test for higher education (public and private), administered by the Centro Nacional de Evaluación para la Educación Superior A.C. (National Evaluation Center for Higher Education—CENEVAL).

Gerardo Acosta is one of the first inmates to graduate from a pilot program run by the Baja California State Penitentiary and the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), which allows people serving a sentence in El Hongo to receive higher education while incarcerated.  Along with Gerardo Acosta’s amazing achievement, two of his inmate classmates also received special recognition for outstanding academic performance in 2013.

Rosaura Barahona, renown editorialist for El Norte newspaper, commented that El Hongo’s educational program is part of a number of changes in the state’s penal system, which is migrating away from a “lock them up and throw away the key” strategy toward a transformative strategy of rehabilitation-and-reinsertion.

“Educating someone is never a waste of time” said Barahona, noting that Gerardo Acosta earned his degree despite having eleven more years to serve behind bars.

Felipe Cuamea Velázquez, Dean of the UABC, agrees with Barahona and congratulated Gerardo Acosta for this achievement. “It represents a great step in his life and an important tool towards his reinsertion into society,” said Cuamea Velázquez.

Of course, the educational program will never be bulletproof, and there is no evidence to say that someone who goes through it will never commit a crime in the future—but there is no arguing against the fact that it is better than the alternative of doing nothing.

Moreover, the three students’ success is proof of the seriousness with which the state penitentiary is taking this program seriously. It is not a PR ploy for authorities to boast that they are trying to reinsert convicts into society, but is actually a legitimate project that provides access to top-level education to people who never had it before.

The way I see it, a person who is in jail but who is studying hard enough to receive better scores than non-criminals is also an inmate who is staying away from trouble; someone looking to better himself because he wants a different life after he serves his sentence.

Baja California’s El Hongo is the first state penitentiary to initiate a program like the one with the UABC—and although it has only graduated ten students thus far, imagine the possibilities if this program were to be implemented at a national scale.

What if a young guy who committed a minor crime served his sentence—and instead of having learned to be a more effective gang-banger, he came out a university graduate?

Advertisements

Transforming Monterrey’s Landscape

Standard

I had forgotten to post a link to this article on AQBlog, titled “Transforming Monterrey’s Landscape“, published on February 26th, 2014. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Also, here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

—-

Monterrey, one of the largest cities in Mexico, has recently become a hotspot for criminal activity and host to a number of violent incidents. An ambitious urban development initiative, however, is set to change the city’s deteriorating reputation.

Seventy years ago, an institution that transformed the educational system in Mexico was bornTec de Monterrey, an icon of entrepreneurial spirit and industrial development success based in the city of Monterrey. Dubbed by many of its alumni as the “MIT of Latin America”, Tec was founded in 1943 by Don Eugenio Garza Sada, an MIT graduate himself.

Tec de Monterrey is much more than a university, it is a nation-wide system of high school, university and post-graduate campuses with a common mission: to develop human and professional potential in its students. Its headquarters and most important campus is the Campus Monterrey, located in the valley of the famous Cerro de la Silla of southern Monterrey, an  area that has hosted violence, including the tragic deaths of two students in a 2010 shooting.

However, Tec de Monterrey recently presented a 500 million dollar urban development project which will, among other things, reclaim public spaces of 17 neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Monterrey Campus. The money funding the project will come predominately from donations and proceeds from the annual Sorteo Tec,  a lottery system similar to state-run lotteries, that is privately organized by Tec de Monterrey.

 

“District Tec” as it is being called, will include drastic improvements to surrounding roads and infrastructure to be built over the next 15 to 20 years. A large public park is part of the project, as is the renovation of the campus’ library. The old football and soccer stadium, currently home to the Rayados de Monterrey professional team, will be demolished and replaced by sports facilities, leisure areas and an underground parking lot.

José Antonio Fernández, President of the Tec de Monterrey Board, said that the university “will work hand in hand with the community and authorities in order to transform this part of the city into a safe, attractive and inspiring place where talent can be attracted and retained.”

District Tec is a scarce but valuable example of visionary collaboration between the private and public sector and the communities. It will certainly pose its set of implementation challenges, but while many efforts to curb violence and insecurity—such as government crack downs on illegal casinos and brothels—have been short-lived, the brilliance of the District Tec is its focus on a long-term solution.

Mexican society has traditionally played the victim when it comes to dealing with issues of insecurity. It is far too easy to blame the government while we see our communities deteriorating. District Tec shows only too well what city leaders should be paying attention to—if you’re not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. Congratulations to Tec de Monterrey for its commitment to this bold effort in making their neighborhood safe again. I look forward to my children enjoying their university experience the way that I did back when it was much safer to live in Monterrey.