Saskia Niño de Rivera

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2015


This profile was prepared when Saskia Niño de Rivera was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
In Mexico, the penitentiary system is popularly known as the ‘university of crime.’ Rather than providing rehabilitation or even correction, the system often releases inmates who are more violent and dangerous than when they entered.
Saskia works within the prisons and the country’s most dangerous neighborhoods in order to change the extremely rough environments that funnel Mexicans into crime. In Mexico City alone, each year 130 babies are born in prisons, where they were formerly allowed to live until six years of age. Saskia has worked with the government to change the maximum age these children can remain in prison to 3 years old to limit damage and also change incentives for having children in prison. Her organization Reinserta Un Mexicano creates safe spaces within the prisons and teaches their mothers how to raise these children in this context, then teaches the inmates themselves to impart these workshops in a ‘train the trainer’ model. Reinserta also runs a halfway house for adolescents who have committed serious crimes, where they continue their education and avoid returning to crime. In Mexico City’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods, these rehabilitated youth speak to other young people about alternative opportunities and the problems of entering a life of crime.
At the same time, Saskia is working to identify and reevaluate the incentives that lead people to commit crimes, and changing the legal framework to support rehabilitation and education. Working with the national anti-kidnapping commission, she is interviewing 2500 kidnappers to develop a psychological profile of kidnappers and prevent this crime, which has seen a rise in Mexico in recent years. She is also interviewing mothers to understand the incentives that motivate them to have children in prison. Saskia’s research motivates her public policies work, which has changed the law that allows children to remain within the system until six, and aims to change legal incentives impeding prisoners’ employment or the recognition of their education.
Throughout all of her efforts, Saskia is seeking to humanize the inhuman. Mexicans are so accustomed to insecurity and crime, she says, that they have little sympathy for people who are convicted and incarcerated. Working at every level – from dignifying the reputation of prison wardens to working with a global public relations company to make Mexicans aware that there are 130 children in the city’s women’s prison– Saskia is generating a national will for change in the penitentiary system. Saskia believes that the Mexican security problems will not disappear until the ‘university of crime’ has been transformed, and Mexicans begin to remember that those found within the prisons are humans too.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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