Understanding the Gendered Impact of Drugs, Drug Policy and Drug Policy Enforcement

September 19, 2017

Last week SPP’s Global Policy Academy hosted an OSF-sponsored workshop on “Understanding the Gendered Impact of Drugs, Drug Policy and Drug Policy Enforcement.” As part of the workshop, a public panel discussion was led by Professor Julia Buxton on “Learning from the Latin American Experience: Policy and Advocacy Advancements for Incarcerated Female Drug Offenders.”

The panel brought together three experts in the field. The first to speak, Luciana Pol is a sociologist working for the Argentinian human rights organization, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS). She spoke about the problems of female incarceration in Latin America. It has been a global trend that the number of people charged with offenses related to drugs has been increasing in the past decade. This has been especially significant in the Latin American context. Numbers have more than doubled in recent years and the percentage of women imprisoned for drug-related offenses tripled in comparison to those of men and continues to grow disproportionately. The majority of incarcerated women are first time offenders, single mothers and in prison for low-level crimes. Due to a slow judicial process and lengthy re-trail detention, many spend months in prison before their trials. These women rarely pose a threat to society, yet due to mandatory minimum sentencing they end up in prison for years for activities such as cultivation, micro-trafficking and selling drugs from their homes. And while the drug-traffickers are imprisoned, their incarceration does very little towards the dismantling of the illegal market as high level criminal organizers are rarely targeted, and arrested women are disposable and easily replaced. This increase in incarceration rates has led to extreme overcrowding in Latin American prisons. The conditions are deteriorating and have numerous negative side effects including violence and sexual violence.

The second panelist to speak was Marie Nougier, who works for the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of NGOs. She discussed what could be done about the incarceration issues. A dynamic working group of experts from the field, academia and governments came together to think through what was known about the issue and what new ways of thinking around drug policy could be identified to reduce the impact on women with the main objective of reducing the number of women in prison. The working group put together a regional guide for policy reform which was developed for over a year and launched in February 2016 under the auspices of the Organization of American States. The guide provides concrete recommendations and alternative policy options.

Corina Giacomello was the third expert who contributed to the panel. She is based in Mexico where she works for Equis Justice for Women and spoke about the issues in the country. Mexico has seen a proliferation of large and fluid drug cartels in recent years with an increase in violence amongst groups and also a violent response from the government. As in the other countries spoken about in the panel, Mexico also suffers from disproportionate sentencing resulting in very high incarceration rates and sometime eight to nine years of pre-trial detention. Giacomello continues to do research in prisons, monitoring and talking to the women in an attempt to improve women’s lives and understand their stories and experiences.

Julia Buxton ended the panel by giving context to this workshop: the world has been trying to prevent people from consuming intoxicating substances for a century now. The UN and the UNODC continue to strive towards a world free of drugs, but this has not been successful and all evidence shows the obvious reason these policies are flawed. The so-called war on drugs can never be won because as long as there is demand, there is a supply and instead this “war” ends up being a war on people and, in particular, a war on the poorest people.  The policies must be changed in order to stop harming so many.

Our partner organization Drug Reporter produced a video about the workshop, view here

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