WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
29 Mar 2014 | Video

Women, Drug Policy, and Incarceration in the Americas

On Monday, March 31, speakers from WOLA, the Organization of American States, and the International Drug Policy Consortium presented on the increased participation of women in all spheres of the illicit drugs market, as well as the gender dynamics of their involvement. A taped video of the event, courtesy of the OAS, is available above.

The event featured Opening Remarks from the Executive Secretary of the CIM, Carmen Moreno

Welcome and Introduction of the panel by the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the OAS, Ambassador Milton Romani Gerner

Keynote Speech: Gabriela Olivera, National Drugs Secretariat, Uruguay
Roundtable “Women, Drugs, Prisons and Human Rights”
Moderator: Coletta Youngers, IDPC and WOLA

– Corina Giacomello, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
– Gabriela Olivera, National Drugs Secretariat, Uruguay
– Nischa Pieris, Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM/OAS)
– Rosa Julia Leyva, National Security Commission, Ministry of the Interior, Mexico

Closing Remarks Adam Blackwell, Secretary, Secretariat for Multidimensional Security/OAS

Globally, there are an estimated 625,000 women and girls deprived of liberty, either awaiting or serving a sentence. In the past few years, the population of women prisoners has increased at a faster rate than that of their male counterparts. In Latin America, the incarceration rate for women has almost doubled from 40,000 in 2006 to 74,000 in 2010.

In a report on the current status of women and their participation in the illicit drugs trade, the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) of the Organization of American States (OAS) shows that the majority of women imprisoned in the Americas are deprived of their liberty for drug-related crimes. Most of these women are awaiting a trial, and despite being presumed innocent, are held in “pre-trial detention.” Among other issues, the research paper discusses how the women who participate in the drug trade tend to do so at the lowest levels of the commercialization chain, many as a result of poverty and/or coercion. Long term imprisonment of women who are also mothers creates a separation which can be damaging to their dependent children and can lead to the breakdown of families.

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) has published a paper on women, drug-related crime, and prisons in Latin America that discusses how women’s participation in the commercialization chain of the illegal drug market is different than that of men, as are their experiences of penitentiary systems. The report explains the factors that contribute to the role of women as easily replaceable, lower-level actors within transnational criminal networks for drug trafficking and describes the particular challenges, violence, and abuse that they face when incarcerated. IDPC proposes a series of policy responses, including sentencing reform and alternatives to incarceration for women convicted of low-level, non-violent drug offenses.

The two studies highlight that the issue of women and drugs in the Americas needs to be approached from a perspective that is sensitive to gender differences, especially when designing and implementing drug laws and policies.