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Working with incarcerated people in Mexico to build successful and productive lives

October 16, 2020

From October 12 to October 23, we are highlighting the stories and work of our 2020 Beyond Sport Global Awards Shortlisters who are using sport to ensure inclusive economic growth and productive work for all. Interculturalidad, Salud y Derechos A.C. is one of them. Learn more about the inspiring work they are doing to successfully reintegrate formerly incarcerated people back into society, socially and economically.  

In 2011, young inmates at CIIMAET, an internment center for minors in Mexico, expressed their desire to be able to financially help their families from prison and to rebuild their lives after getting out. That was all Interculturalidad, Salud y Derechos A.C. (INSADE) needed to hear to want to help.

But they knew that to be effective, they had to address root causes. Namely, why? Mexico has one of the largest prison populations in Latin America with an incarceration rate of 158 per 100,000. Why did their eventual program participants commit offences? Because they lacked opportunities and couldn’t get jobs. Why couldn’t they get jobs? Due to a number of factors:

Of INSADE’s 4300 current beneficiaries, 45% lacked work experience, 35% said they were held back because of their physical appearance and 20% because of their age. To get money to live and support their families, they resorted to crime.

With this knowledge the Hecho en Libertad™ - Made in Freedom - intervention model was born. Launched in 2015, the four-phase program supports social reintegration and provides economic self-sufficiency tools for incarcerated people who have made the decision to give up crime.

“Mainly what we are looking for, is that crime is no longer an option,” said Iván Torres, Program Coordinator at INSADE. “We work with them when they are convicted, when they are about to leave and once they are out.”

4.3% of Mexico’s prison populations are juveniles and 5.2% are women - populations that are particularly vulnerable and unsupported -- especially as most intervention programs for prisoners, including sports-based ones, overwhelmingly target men. INSADE therefore has a special focus on both.

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Many youth in the criminal justice system have been neglected, lack strong role models and have inadequate personal and social skills. The combined negative impact on their health and employment prospects are significant.

Similarly, women in prison often come from disadvantaged backgrounds marred by violence and abuse. They don’t typically receive the same level of family support as men while in prison, and once released, they face higher levels of discrimination. Factors making it more likely for them to continue with crime.

INSADE’s participants are stigmatized when entering prison – for how they look, for being part of the LGBTQIA community, etc. - and when they leave, society ostracizes them for having been imprisoned in the first place. Many end up back in jail.

To break this cycle, INSADE’s approach provides life skills and socio-labor training, access to the larger financial ecosystem and monitoring. And it all starts with sports.

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Because of its ability to bridge divides – in this case, a population highly skeptical of social interventions – sport allows them to breaks down barriers to their participants. They are then able to talk through the issues their participants are struggling with and teach discipline, self-confidence and how to deal with frustration and stress.

Ivan notes that “without sports, I don’t think the model could emerge. It is a tool that has helped us a lot to get closer to them [with] activities like Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Lima lama and physical conditioning training.”

“Throughout this first phase, we work on teamwork and respect…and we help their self-esteem. Many suffer low self-esteem. Through sport, we work on this so that later they become agents of change and see possibilities for a second chance. It becomes quite a circle which also helps other people in the same context see that social reintegration is possible.”

Hecho en Libertad participants reflect that they are better equipped to manage their anger and think through problems more logically and positively as a result of doing combat sports. They are also more inclined to think about their goals and life plans.

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Following sport is a focus on employability. INSADE provides vocational training, mentorship and workplace connections. They also train on building income-generating businesses through an enterprise where inmates handmake products and are taught how to sell them, including on the program's online marketplace. 98% of beneficiaries have turned away from crime and many have gone on to social entrepreneurship.

When asked to name an athlete that inspires him, Ivan chooses Alexa Moreno, the first Mexican female artistic gymnast to medal at a World Championships (2018 Doha). The reason why sums up INSADE’s goals:

“They never believed in her…but she showed people that you don't necessarily have to belong to a certain stereotype. That this is independent of your talent. This is something we always emphasize to our beneficiaries. Regardless of who you are, your talent is what shows you the person you are and this can generate change in other people.”

Hecho en Libertad currently runs in five states and by 2030, the deadline to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), INSADE wants to have 32 programs across Mexico with beneficiaries supporting other beneficiaries. Their results show that they are well on their way.

Interculturalidad, Salud y Derechos A.C. is a 2020 Beyond Sport Global Awards Shortlister in the Sport for Decent Work and Economic Growth category. Learn more about the rest of this year’s Shortlist and follow their journeys at


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