WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Women, Drug Policies, and Incarceration in the Americas

Women across the Americas are being incarcerated for low-level drug offenses at an alarming rate. WOLA and partner organizations have joined with government officials and drug policy experts throughout the world to develop and implement gender-sensitive policies to reduce female incarceration.

Women across the Americas are being incarcerated for low-level drug offenses at an alarming rate. In Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Peru, well over 60 percent of each country’s female prison population is incarcerated for drug-related crimes. Total prison populations in Latin America have grown as well; Colombia’s prison population has swelled 300 percent in the last 25 years. The policies that have led to this surge in imprisonment have torn apart families and crippled women’s abilities to find decent, legal employment once they have been released, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty, desperation and incarceration.

The imprisonment of mothers and caregivers in particular can have devastating consequences for their families and communities. Many have little or no schooling, live in conditions of poverty, and are often responsible for the care of young and elderly dependents. Though they bear the brunt of unjust policies, these women are rarely threats to society; most are arrested for performing low-level, high-risk tasks, and many have been driven to small-scale drug dealing or transporting drugs as a way to survive poverty or in some cases as a result of coercion by intimate partners.

WOLA, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Dejusticia, and the OAS Inter-American Commission of Women are seeking to address the issue of women incarcerated for drug crimes. The sponsoring organizations have convened an international working group of government officials, lawyers, and researchers on women’s and drug policy issues, to advance policies that protect the rights of this vulnerable group and end the unjust criminalization of non-violent drug offenders.

A Guide for Drug Policy Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Exploring Global Innovative Approaches

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Photo Essays: The Human Cost of Drug Policies in the Americas

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International Advocacy

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Articles on Women, Drug Policy and Incarceration

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Reports on Women, Drug Policy and Incarceration

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Our Partners

WOLA is working in collaboration with the following organizations:


International Drug              Dejusticia               Inter-American Policy Consortium                                         Commission                                                               of Women



Meet the Working Group


Working Group Partner Organizations:

Andean Information Network (AIN)
Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)
Corporación Humanas – Colombia
Corporación Humanas – Chile
Costa Rican Association for Research and Intervention in Drugs (ACEID)
Equis: Justice for Women
Faculty of Law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Inter-American Commission of Women/Organization of American States (CIM/OAS)
International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
Instituto Terra, Trabalho e Cidadania (ITTC)
Washington Office on Latin America

Working Group Members

Giselle Amador Muñoz
Ana Jimena Bautista Revelo
Isabel Blas Guillén
Luciana Boiteux
Caroline Buhse
Luz Piedad Caicedo
Ernesto Cortes
Luis Felipe Cruz
Valdirene Daufemback
Corina Giacomello
Kathryn Ledebur
Margarita María Martínez Osorio
Maria Cristina Meneses Sotomayor
Zhuyem Molina
Marie Nougier
Gabriela Olivera
Nischa Pieris
Luciana Pol
Daniela Quintanilla
Ana Maria Rueda
Maria Santos
Lucia Sestokas
Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes
Coletta Youngers

Learn about the Working Group members here.

To get in contact with the Working Group, please contact WOLA Program Assistant Caroline Buhse at [email protected].


CEDD Final

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