Toby Olvera from Coconino County, AZ meets with Justice System Administrators in Thailand on YSEALI Reciprocal Exchange

YSEALI U.S. Fellow Summer 2017 Cohort:

Week One

Coconino County prides itself on being a results oriented, data-driven organization. This is especially true with our local criminal justice agencies, many of which have been recognized as leaders of this broader trend nationally towards adopting evidence based practices in the criminal justice field. As a criminal justice practitioner, my participation in the YSEALI fellowship was exciting on many levels, but more than anything, I was eager to have the opportunity to meet with justice system administrators in Thailand and hear about their practices and approaches, thinking the contrast between the two systems would give me valuable insight for my work.

In some ways, the contrasts between the two types of systems was very evident. For instance, in the U.S., though there is a federal criminal justice system, in practice the vast majority of justice system administration takes place at the local level. Thailand’s system is much more centralized, with policing, criminal prosecution, prisons and community corrections being supervised by central government authorities. Setting that difference aside, though, my first week was spent marveling at the similarities in our approaches than our differences.

When I met with Thailand’s probation department, I was treated to a presentation that felt like it was being given by our own probation department, which we view justifiably as one of the leading probation departments in our state for their sophisticated evidence based approaches to rehabilitation. Thailand’s probation practices were nearly identical, and are considered best practices in the US. Not surprisingly, the results in reducing recidivism have been profound in Thailand, just as we have seen locally in our county. Likewise, meeting with officials from Thailand’s national police force, I was struck first by how similar police are anywhere you go. They face the same difficulties our departments face, such as the never-ending struggle with individuals whose criminal behavior is driven more by substance addiction and poverty than anything else. The same frustrations were voiced, the same solutions were discussed, and were it not for the language differences, I could easily have mistaken my meetings as the same ones I have with our local law enforcement officials.

Overall, at all of the meetings and discussions I had with agencies and organizations in Thailand, the similarities were always more evident than differences. In hindsight, this is not surprising as all government exists to solve human problems, and on the whole, people are people wherever you go. We have our unique cultures and languages, but as my first week helped reaffirm, people face the same problems everywhere. It isn’t surprising that we would find common solutions. That observation, more than anything, made me realize how much value programs such as the YSEALI exchange offers, as it leads to sharing of ideas and solutions, which adds value for everyone.

Toby V. Olvera, J.D.


Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

Coconino County, Arizona

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