Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1989
Fundación de Reintegración Social del Estado de México


This profile was prepared when Sonia Patricia Cabrera Petricioli was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Working with a poor slum community in Mexico City, Patricia saw how much damage the prisons were doing, wrecking lives and badly hurting families. She consequently set out to reform the system.This is not an easy goal. The prisons are neither used to nor warmly open to such help, least of all from an unknown woman. She consequently decided to focus first on the very large number of those in jail for the first time-almost always poor people imprisoned pending trial. She focused further on those among them presenting the least risk-men and women generally without prior criminal records who are not addicted to drugs or alcohol and who do have families.She feels that these are the cases where she can make the most difference. This is where the prison system is most likely to relent. More important, by intervening quickly she can limit the damage jail does to a person and increase the probability of his or her successful reintegration with their family and into non-criminal life. These successes in turn should lend credibility to subsequent, harder reforms she'd like to launch, e.g., in the public prosecutors' offices.Patricia is hard at work developing a systematic approach to identifying and screening those first-incarceration cases where early release will work, winning their release, laying the groundwork in their home community for acceptance and successful reintegration, and ensuring sufficient follow-up to help them re-enter and to ensure they meet their parole requirements. Doing so has required her to master all the complexities of the current system, formal and informal. As she does so, she's developing not only new tools she can add to her evolving model of how to win and manage early prisoner release, but also building an agenda for future reforms. If, of the 12 public prosecutors serving courts that feed the jail where her initial work is focused (professionals who should in theory be doing some of her work), only two are useful allies, how can she most effectively jar this potential resource into action? What pressures and incentives will work within the current framework? How might the governor or the legislature most usefully charge the framework?As she progresses, Patricia has also been developing a growing list of policy or legislative reforms she feels are important. For example, there is a statute that bars parole for anyone who has damaged government property-regardless of the value of the property or of how the damage occurred. She wants it repealed.To pursue this work Patricia set up the Fundacion de Reintegracion Social del Estado de Mexico (the Foundation of Social Reintegration of the State of Mexico) and is working initially with prisoners from the jail at Barrientos. The foundation is unique in providing an early release service for prisoners. The only other organizations in the field are a Mexico City organization dealing principally with the problem of single mothers in jails and the Church-based Pastoral Penitenciario, offering traditional charity work.Patricia has already had a number of notable successes. In only one year of operation, she has set up an effective multidisciplinary team in which members, be they lawyer, social worker, or health promotor is able to handle all steps required to process a case-thus avoiding cold, impersonal specialists. She talks with justifiable satisfaction of the results so far: in less than a year of start-up work, 70 prisoners have been freed. The foundation is giving post-liberation attention to 46 of these 70 people. It is currently reviewing 218 other cases.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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