Nischa Pieris https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/21326/all cached version 09/02/2019 01:59:32 en Across Asia, we need to give the women incarcerated by the ‘war on drugs’ a voice https://www.opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy/nischa-pieris/across-asia-we-need-to-give-women-incarcerated-by-war-on-drugs-voice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Only then will the public begin to see the human face of repressive policies and the lives destroyed in the pursuit of an impossible ‘drug-free world’.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy"><img width="460px" alt="wfd" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/banner1new (1).jpg" /></a></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/PA-22820178.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Protesters appeal to Indonesia to spare Mary Jane Veloso, Philippines 2015. B. Marquez/AP/PA Images. All rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/PA-22820178.jpg" alt="Protesters appeal to Indonesia to spare Mary Jane Veloso, Philippines 2015. B. Marquez/AP/PA Images. All rights reserved." title="Protesters appeal to Indonesia to spare Mary Jane Veloso, Philippines 2015. B. Marquez/AP/PA Images. All rights reserved." width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protesters appeal to Indonesia to spare Mary Jane Veloso, Philippines 2015. B. Marquez/AP/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2007, Supatta Ruenrurng travelled to Laos from her native Thailand. There she purchased one and a half methamphetamine tablets weighing 0.17g and brought them back to Thailand for personal use. She was arrested at the border and charged with importing and possessing a category one drug under the 1979 Narcotics Act. </p> <p>The court initially dismissed the importation charge on the basis that the minor quantity of drugs involved was for personal use and would not cause any harms to society. Supatta was sentenced to six months in prison (suspended for two years) and was issued a fine for possession. This sentence took into account the fact that she had confessed to possession for personal use, that it was her first offence and she was the mother of a child for whom she was the primary caregiver. However the prosecution contested this decision, and on appeal the court found her guilty of drug importation, handing her a sentence of 25 years behind bars, reduced from life imprisonment due to Supatta’s confession, with immediate effect. The Supreme Court affirmed this decision.</p> <p>A gender and human rights perspective is overlooked when it comes to drug laws and public policies in south-east Asia. Supatta’s case demonstrates the injustice of disproportionate sentencing practices and how women and their dependents are particularly affected by such harsh measures. With no consideration of mitigating factors by the higher courts, she was sentenced for importation instead of consumption despite the small amount of methamphetamine in her possession. </p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In Thailand, where reducing prison overcrowding has become a government priority, the royal family issues an amnesty approximately once a year in which some prisoners are released, but Supatta has not been among those to benefit from this measure. Pardons and amnesties can impact several groups among the prison population, especially in cases like Supatta’s where lengthy sentences are unjustly handed out for low level drug crimes. Yet such short-term measures, if not accompanied or followed by sweeping and far-reaching reforms in drug laws, will not achieve a sustained reduction in the </span><a href="http://www.wola.org/sites/default/files/WOLA%20WOMEN%20FINAL%20ver%2025%2002%201016.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">number of people in prison</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">.</span></p> <p>Sentences of 25 years for women and men involved in low level drug related offences are regrettably common in a region that continues to uphold the impossible goal of achieving a ‘drug-free society’. </p> <p>Despite the proven failure of such an objective and the actions taken in vain to achieve it, this ‘drug-free’ narrative continues to taunt the people of south-east Asia. It is a narrative that criminalises drug users, low-level drug offenders, and rural crop cultivators despite a steady rise in health-related harms, incarceration rates, an exacerbation of poverty and marginalisation, and countless human rights violations as a direct result of these policies. While funds are channelled to the expansion of eradication operations, and to the ‘stamping out’ of drugs by heavy handed law enforcement strategies, the objective of removing illicit drugs from the region has not been (and will never be) achieved. Nonetheless most ASEAN countries made statements during the 2016 UNGASS, reaffirming their objective of a drug-free region, and defending disproportionate measures such as the death penalty for dealing with drug related crimes. </p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Despite the efforts of ASEAN governments to suppress the use and supply of drugs through stepped-up law enforcement capacity and other repressive measures, south-east Asia has seen increases in illicit drug supply, trafficking, and use. Instead of conducting an objective and meaningful review of their approach, they have responded by conducting large-scale arrests for drug offences, particularly in relation to </span><a href="http://www.unodc.org/documents/southeastasiaandpacific/Publications/2015/drugs/ATS_2015_Report_web.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">methamphetamine in recent years</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">.&nbsp;Although there is a lack of recent and reliable data about prisons in the region, preliminary studies have shown that this approach has led to overcrowding and a significant proportion of the prison population in the region being deprived of their liberty for low-level drug offences.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In its&nbsp;</span><em>Global Prison Trends 2015</em><span style="line-height: 1.5; text-decoration: underline;">&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">report, Penal Reform International found that while women comprise an average of 6.5% of the world’s prisoners (over 660,000 women as of 2013), they constitute the fastest growing prison demographic with particularly high rates of imprisonment for drug related offences. The proportion of women incarcerated for drug offences is significantly higher than that of men, with the highest levels of women’s incarceration to </span><a href="http://www.penalreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Drugs-and-imprisonment-Global-Prison-Trends-2015_final.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">be found in south-east and east Asia</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In Thailand, 287,335 people were in prison as of 2013, of which 50% were charged, convicted or detained for drug offences and about 14% were women – a much higher percentage </span><a href="http://idpc.net/publications/2013/11/idpc-briefing-paper-drug-control-and-harm-reduction-in-thailand" style="line-height: 1.5;">than the global average</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">. The International Centre for Prison Studies reports that Thailand’s prison overcrowding is </span><a href="http://www.prisonstudies.org/map/asia" style="line-height: 1.5;">around 134%</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">. As of 2015, over 47,000 women were behind bars in the country. The data on the specific conditions and caregiving status is scarce and unreliable. However in 2014 it was reported that there were more than 260 pregnant women in Thai prisons and over 250 babies living behind bars </span><a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/archive/for-female-offenders-jail-often-no-solution/586901" style="line-height: 1.5;">with their mothers</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, though it is believed that this figure is much higher. The Thailand Institute of Justice revealed in a report on “</span><a href="http://www.tijthailand.org/useruploads/files/women_prisoners_and_the_implementation_of_the_bangkok_rules_in_thailand_tij.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">Women Prisoners and the Implementation of the Bangkok Rules</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">” that over 80% of women in prison in Thailand have been convicted of drug offences, compared to 61% among male prisoners, according to </span><a href="http://www.tijthailand.org/useruploads/files/women_prisoners_and_the_implementation_of_the_bangkok_rules_in_thailand_tij.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">official figures as of 2012</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">While national drug laws accommodate the notion that people who use drugs are ‘patients not criminals’, in reality people who use drugs are frequently deprived of their liberty for simple consumption, and there is little understanding or consideration of evidence-based treatment and harm reduction, let alone gender-specific programmes where the needs of women who use drugs are adequately incorporated. According to the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), people who use drugs are highly stigmatised, harassed by law enforcement officials, unlawfully tested and detained on suspicion of drug use, and excluded from </span><a href="https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/64663568/library/IDPC-briefing-paper-Thailand-drug-policy-English.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">accessing health, social and legal services</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">During the recent United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs (UNGASS), there was mounting pressure from the international community for countries that retain capital punishment for drug offences to issue a moratorium on the death penalty. Despite this, and the evidence that women are framed by traffickers to transport drugs across international borders without knowledge of the quantities they are transporting or the risks and </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/29/philippines-bid-save-mary-jane-veloso-execution-indonesia" style="line-height: 1.5;">consequences involved in doing so</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, women are still kept on death row for drug smuggling offences. This is a common and increasing phenomenon in countries such as Thailand, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and </span><a href="http://gulftoday.ae/portal/5f8b4f94-c9a4-45c7-b0fe-b15cf1153da3.aspx" style="line-height: 1.5;">various Middle Eastern countries</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> – most of which used the UNGASS to defend the use of the death penalty as a deterrent against drug trafficking and organised crime.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The Philippines stood out during the meeting as the only Asian country to directly condemn the use of the death penalty for drug offences. The death penalty is no longer used in the country for these crimes, and national authorities have been concerned about the increasing numbers of people engaged in drug smuggling, mostly women, who have been arrested, on death row or executed in foreign countries over the past decade. One example of this is </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/30/indonesian-executions-why-was-mary-jane-veloso-spared" style="line-height: 1.5;">Mary Jane Veloso</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, a young Filipino woman and mother of two who was given temporary reprieve minutes before she was scheduled to be executed by firing squad in Indonesia last year. She was spared because of evidence brought forward by the Philippines government that she had a been a victim of human trafficking, exploited and tricked into carrying drugs to Indonesia. This caused widespread sympathy and a public outcry from the Indonesian public, who took to Twitter to demand her release.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In the lead up to the 2016 UNGASS, a </span><a href="http://anyoneschild.org/" style="line-height: 1.5;">number of campaigns</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> have been launched from families of incarcerated people and those affected by the drugs war. </span><a href="http://www.wola.org/commentary/women_drug_policies_and_incarceration_in_the_americas" style="line-height: 1.5;">Influential publications on drug policy reform from a gender perspective</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> and international collaboration between civil society and concerned government officials have all contributed to the development of new approaches such as alternatives to incarceration, the decriminalisation of drug use, and the adoption of laws and policies that offer more proportionate approaches. However, the </span><a href="http://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016//Documentation/ECN72016L12_rev1_e_V1601770.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">UNGASS outcome document</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> did not reflect the voices of affected communities and largely excluded the opinions of an ever united global public in its support for ending the ‘war on drugs’, which is essentially a war on people. Strong civil society engagement in the UNGASS process helped to lessen the prohibitionist language as much as possible, but the outcome document as a whole shows that there is still much work to be done to move the UN and countries that purvey a more repressive message towards reform.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The gender component of the </span><a href="http://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016//Documentation/ECN72016L12_rev1_e_V1601770.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">outcome document</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, though weak in its language, did emphasise the importance of “mainstreaming a gender perspective into and ensuring the involvement of women in all stages of the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of drug policies and programmes.” Work that is being carried out to raise this issue in </span><a href="http://www.wola.org/commentary/women_drug_policies_and_incarceration_in_the_americas" style="line-height: 1.5;">Latin America and the Caribbean</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> is a good example of how women’s voices can be incorporated into the drug policy debate, and it would be encouraging to see similar joint projects in Asia through collaborations between governments, multi-lateral agencies, civil society, incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated women and other affected communities.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">While it is apparent that women in Asia are often used as human couriers, and considered expendable by trafficking networks that exploit their conditions of vulnerability, an understanding of the impact of the drugs war on their lives and livelihoods has remained largely absent from the research and activities of regional and international organisations. Their stories have similarly been unheard and their faces invisible to the public as mainstream media prefers to report on drug seizures and security related issues.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The reality is that these women – contrary to the narrative of governments in the region – rarely pose a threat to society. They are often poor women who are responsible for young dependents, and with low levels of education. Their lives are characterised by social exclusion, and the low levels at which they operate within trafficking networks – often as small scale distributors or consumers – do not comply with the narrative of fear through which governments justify their ‘iron fist’ approach. Reporting on the lives and struggles of these women would reveal this heavy-handed strategy as disproportionate and misguided.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">During the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) earlier this year, a resolution was passed on </span><a href="https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/V16/008/99/PDF/V1600899.pdf?OpenElement" style="line-height: 1.5;">“Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Drug Policies and Programmes”</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">. It is hoped that governments in south-east Asia work with civil society to design and implement gender specific policies, using this resolution and related materials as a guide, bearing in mind the risks that the current drug control system pose to women’s well-being, and that of their families and communities.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">A good place to start would be </span><a href="http://www.wola.org/commentary/women_behind_bars_the_human_cost_of_current_drug_policy_in_the_americas" style="line-height: 1.5;">giving incarcerated women a voice</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> and inviting them to share their stories from prisons in Asia so that the public can begin to see the human face of repressive policies and the lives destroyed in the pursuit of an impossible ‘drug-free world’.</span></p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; margin-left: 14px; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and <a href="http://www.cels.org.ar/home/index.php">CELS</a>, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.</span></div></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/drugpolicy/gabriela-kletzel-luciana-pol/where-do-we-go-from-here-drug-policy-debate-continues">Where do we go from here? The drug policy debate continues</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> drugpolicy Nischa Pieris Thu, 19 May 2016 07:01:25 +0000 Nischa Pieris 102212 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is the ‘war on drugs’ destroying women’s lives? https://www.opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy/coletta-youngers-nischa-pieris-margarette-may-macaulay/is-war-on-drugs-destroying-women-s-lives <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Across the world, women are being incarcerated at an alarming rate for drug offences. The vast majority are single mothers, and facing situations of extreme poverty.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy"><img width="460px" alt="wfd" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/banner1new (1).jpg" /></a></p> <p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sv8zOS8SlWU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p><strong>Coletta Youngers:</strong> One of things we have found in our research is that women in Latin America are incarcerated at an alarming rate for drug policy offences. This started when we were looking at overall statistics, looking at the impact of drug laws on incarceration in Latin America, which show the relationship between those laws and the prison crisis which the region is confronting.</p> <p><strong>Nischa Pieris: </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">And this was a growing population. It became very worrying to us that in some countries up to 80% of the prison population for women are incarcerated for drug crimes. We realised that while they were a numerical minority in the global prison population, they were very, very under-represented in their needs, and why they were being incarcerated was for drug crimes.</span></p> <p><strong>Coletta Youngers:</strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> Then we started looking at, what are those offences? And we found that the vast majority are there for low level offences. They are there because they were selling drugs, small amounts of drugs, or working as what we call human couriers, transporting drugs from one place to another, within a country or over international borders.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">And then we asked ourselves, well who are these women? And we found the vast majority are single mums. These are women who are facing situations of extreme poverty, very little opportunity for meaningful employment. They are struggling for ways to put food on their table&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">and fulfill their childcare responsibilities. And sadly, engaging in these drug-trafficking activities&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">is a good way to combine the need to earn some income and to also fulfill your childcare responsibilities.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">I met with one woman in Costa Rica who was formerly incarcerated, who said to me, “I’ve been out of jail now, I have a criminal record, I’ve been out of jail for several months, nobody will even talk to me about employment. But the traffickers who work in my neighbourhood, the drug gangs, they come up to me every day, and say, “if you need help, we’re here for you.” You have to figure out ways that women don’t fall back into these trafficking networks out of sheer necessity,&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">and can really move ahead with their lives.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/Drugs_OD1_Women (1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/Drugs_OD1_Women (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="441" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></span><strong>Nischa Pieris:</strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> Certainly the issue of women and drug policies is a grave situation not just in the Americas but further afield. In central Asia, and in Europe we have an issue where most of the countries, about 25% of European and central Asian countries’ female prison populations, the first crime they are incarcerated for is drugs. We looked at Asia where drug laws can be very punitive, and there’s absolutely no drug policy that incorporates a gender perspective. Which means that women are in prison for low-level, nonviolent crimes.</span></p> <p><strong>Margarette May Macaulay:</strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> One of our main interests is the impact that policies have had on certain sectors of the population in Jamaica. In almost all the cities and especially the capital,&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">we have had areas which are ruled, literally ruled, by drug lords, they are called in Jamaica ‘dons’.</span></p> <p>They are like dictators within their areas. They also act like feudal lords and take possession of young girls, which completely erodes any rights these young women have to a proper life, to a life free from sexual violation. They are violated, some of them pre-puberty, or during puberty or just after. They end up with children which they are ill-equipped to nurture or want, because they are unwanted. They have no voice in the matter. And their parents have no voice in the matter, whether a ‘don’ takes over a girl-child.</p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">And then in tandem with those violations, there’s the physical harm because they are punished for any small infraction, what the ‘don’ considers an infraction. And also they are brought into the trade, as active participants, as mules. At almost every stage of the way, it affects their health, because most of them have to ingest these substances, packed in condoms to travel to the market countries. And some of them die as a result, because these things burst in their system. And the majority of them are caught in the criminal justice systems, and they end up being imprisoned in foreign countries. Their family life is fractured and destroyed, their children are abandoned.</span></p> <p><strong>Nischa Pieris: </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">I think there are countries which are realizing there is absolutely no value in incarcerating women for low-level crimes and that if they were bolstered in their opportunities,&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">they could make a contribution to society, empowered to take care of their children and keep them in school.</span></p> <p><strong>Coletta Youngers: </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">There are more and more examples</span><strong> </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">of ways in which people are taking an alternative approach.</span><strong> </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">One is a project in the</span><strong> </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">state of New York in the United States</span><strong> </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">called JusticeHome</span><strong> </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">where women who are convicted of felonies, and agree to</span><strong> </strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">go into this programme,&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">can actually serve their time at home, engaged in employment, education, and other opportunities. And they’ll be with their children, earning income all at the same time, serving a non-custodial sentence.</span></p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; margin-left: 14px; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">This video is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and <a href="http://www.cels.org.ar/home/index.php">CELS</a>, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.</span></div></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/drugpolicy/benjamin-ramm/our-children-are-dying-meet-activists-saying-no-more-to-war-on-drugs">&quot;Our children are dying&quot;: meet the activists saying &#039;no more&#039; to the &#039;war on drugs&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/drugpolicy/gabriela-kletzel-luciana-pol/where-do-we-go-from-here-drug-policy-debate-continues">Where do we go from here? The drug policy debate continues</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> drugpolicy Margarette May Macaulay Nischa Pieris Coletta A Youngers Thu, 19 May 2016 06:34:34 +0000 Coletta A Youngers, Nischa Pieris and Margarette May Macaulay 102209 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Women are bearing the brunt of our most punitive drug policies https://www.opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy/coletta-youngers-nischa-pieris/women-are-bearing-brunt-of-our-most-punitive-drug-policies <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>From Colombia to Thailand, drug policy reforms are urgently needed to end the mass incarceration of women for drug offences. Here’s what we can do about it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/banner1new (1).jpg" alt="wfd" width="460px" /></a></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/DSC_0969 (1).JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/DSC_0969 (1).JPG" alt="WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved." title="WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved." width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/drugpolicy/wola-washington-office-on-latin-america/failed-by-system-saras-story">Sara’s story</a> of cycling in and out of prison has become all too familiar. At age 50, she is again serving time, a plea-bargained, seven-year sentence in the “Buen Pastor” women’s prison in San José, Costa Rica, for selling crack and attempting to bribe a police officer with the equivalent of US$3.75. When she was 13, Sara left home, fleeing sexual abuse by her uncle. She ended up living on the streets (where she has spent most of her life) and began using and then selling drugs to support herself and her habit. Sara has suffered a lifetime of abuse, poverty, violence, and incarceration. Imagine what her life could have been like if social services and other forms of government support had been the response to her situation of vulnerability, rather than prison. </p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Sara is not alone. The female prison population is growing worldwide. But in Latin America, women are being incarcerated in alarming numbers. While the number of men incarcerated is greater, the incarceration of women is growing at a faster pace. Extremely punitive drug laws are the driving force behind this disturbing trend. </span><a href="http://www.drogasyderecho.org/publicaciones/pub-priv/luciana_i.pdf" style="line-height: 1.5;">Research</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> carried out by the </span><a href="http://www.drogasyderecho.org/index.php/en/" style="line-height: 1.5;">Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (CEDD)</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> reveals that in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Peru, more than 60% of women are behind bars for drug-related offences. In Argentina, for example, the population of women incarcerated for drug offences climbed 271% between 1989 and 2008, and 290% in Brazil between 2005 and 2013. The majority of these women are accused of or convicted of low-level, non-violent offences, yet they will spend years behind bars.</span></p> <p>This worrying trend is reflected in other parts of the world. According to the <a href="http://www.tijthailand.org/useruploads/files/women_prisoners_and_the_implementation_of_the_bangkok_rules_in_thailand_tij.pdf">Thailand Institute of Justice</a>, 80% of the female prison population in that country is imprisoned for drug-related crime. A similar pattern has also been recorded in Europe and central Asia. <a href="http://www.ihra.net/files/2012/03/11/HRI_WomenInPrisonReport.pdf">A study</a> published by Harm Reduction International in 2012 shows that in these regions, an average of one in every four women deprived of liberty is serving a custodial sentence for drug-related offences. In some countries this figure is as high as 70%. The global data available shows that immediate custodial sentencing is being applied across regions as a first port of call in response to drug offences. </p> <p>The current drug policies that have resulted in the excessive criminalisation and incarceration of women must be fundamentally reformed. Drug policies should be based on the fundamental legal principle that incarceration should only be used as a last resort. Low-level offences committed by women or men should be addressed through alternatives to incarceration and by ensuring that the penalties are proportional to the offences committed. Special attention should be given to the gender perspective in developing, implementing, and evaluating legislative and drug policy reforms.</p> <h2><strong>Who are these women?</strong></h2> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Women who go to prison for drug offences offer diverse explanations as to what led them to be incarcerated. Sara’s story reveals a common pattern: women who become involved in drug use and then begin selling drugs to support their habit; or who are sex workers and use drugs to make their situation more tolerable and then also end up selling them. Although there are women who report having become involved by their own choice and say they were aware of the risks associated with the drug business, in many cases the women have been coerced by a partner or family member – a situation which is facilitated by emotional bonds fraught with gender stereotypes and unequal power relations between men and women. Some women in prison say they were deceived and did not know what they were doing.&nbsp; Others say they were not fully aware of all the risks they were taking.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-right" style="line-height: 1.5;">It is important to stress that these women do not pose a real threat to society.</span></p> <p class="Cuerpo"><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The latter is particularly the case with women who transport drugs from one country to another. These women are often referred to as ‘mules’, a term with obvious derogatory implications. Drug trafficking organisations will sometimes seek out women in situations of vulnerability and entice them into transporting drugs as a means of earning money to support themselves, their family, their drug consumption or a combination of these. In the end, however, these women are engaged in poorly remunerated, high-risk tasks, with a significant probability of being caught, while those running the drug business reap the profits.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">While the factors leading to their involvement in the drug trade may differ, most of the women incarcerated for drug crimes share common characteristics, most prevalently, social exclusion and poverty. They have little or no schooling, leading them to seek out a living in the informal economy, and are responsible for providing care for dependents, whether children, young people, elderly, or persons with disabilities. In many cases they have been victims of violence, sexual abuse, or commercial sexual exploitation at some point in time and possibly repeatedly. They have had little or no access to government services or support.&nbsp; Some groups have an even greater propensity to be subjected to discrimination in the enforcement of drug laws, such as indigenous women, Afro-descendant women, and LGBTI people.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">It is important to stress that these women do not pose a real threat to society. They are arrested for performing low-level tasks, but are locked up in pre-trial detention or with excessive prison terms. Once they have served their sentences and are released, their criminal records make it even harder to find decent work in the legal economy, which perpetuates a vicious cycle of social exclusion and incarceration.</span></p> <h2><strong>The impact on their families</strong></h2> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/DSC_1066 1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/DSC_1066 1.JPG" alt="WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved." title="WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved." width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>WOLA / Adam Schaffer. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In addition, the vast majority of women incarcerated for drug offences in Latin America are single mothers.&nbsp; Consider </span><a href="http://www.wola.org/commentary/women_behind_bars_the_human_cost_of_current_drug_policy_in_the_americas" style="line-height: 1.5;">Johana</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, a single mother who is incarcerated in the women’s prison in Bogotá, Colombia with a sentence of six years and four months for drug trafficking. In order to support her three children, Johana became involved in the family business, making calls to drug dealers and users from her aunt’s supermarket, but never handling the product. She and other members of her family were arrested in a sting operation. The judge reprimanded her for failing as a mother by putting her children at risk; indeed, women are often judged more harshly than men for committing the same crime, as they are seen as defying the gendered social role of caregiver that has been traditionally assigned to them. Johanna’s kids did end up in trouble without their mother to care for them. Was this, as the judge said, a result of what </span><em>she</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> did? Or was it because of poverty that Johanna was driven into the drug trade and her subsequent incarceration?</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">According to the Colombian human rights group, </span><a href="http://www.dejusticia.org/#!/index" style="line-height: 1.5;">Dejusticia</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, 70% of incarcerated women in Colombia are single mothers. In Costa Rica, to give another example, in 2012 more than 95% of women incarcerated for bringing drugs into prison were the sole caregivers for their children. When incarcerated, these mothers suffer tremendously because they are not able to care for them. The children in turn suffer from being separated from their mothers. In the absence of strong social protection networks, the children are exposed to situations of abandonment and marginality; they often face greater poverty, end up institutionalised or living with strangers, or even on the streets. They too may become involved in drug use and drug-related crime.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">While the incarceration of either parent has a devastating impact on children, studies show that when a father is in prison, most children continue to be cared for by his partner, mother or another female family member; however, when mothers are incarcerated, only a small percentage of children remain in the care of their fathers and often other family members are reluctant to take them in, due to the stigmatisation and discrimination that these women face. In short, harsh drug laws disproportionately affect women and their families.</span></p> <h2><strong>An alternative approach</strong></h2> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Drug policy reforms are urgently needed to end the mass incarceration of women for drug offences. In an effort to reduce the female incarcerated prison population in Latin America and the Caribbean, a working group of government officials and experts in the areas of gender, human rights and drug policy from 10 countries came together to develop a “</span><a href="http://www.wola.org/publications/women_drug_policies_and_incarceration" style="line-height: 1.5;">Guide for Policy Reform</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">” on the issue of women, drug policies and incarceration. The guide offers a road map for developing and implementing policy alternatives based on human rights and public health, that are gender-sensitive. The proposed reforms are rooted in the legal principle that incarceration should only be used as a last resort; that gender mainstreaming must be incorporated when developing, implementing and evaluating such reforms; and that the differential impact of the application of drug policies on women must be taken into account.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-left" style="line-height: 1.5;">Central to achieving the goal of more inclusive drug policies is to incorporate women’s voices into the debate.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The guide also underscores the need for more inclusive drug policies. And central to achieving that goal is to incorporate women’s voices into the drug policy debate – the voices of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, of their family members and partners, women drug users, and the mothers, wives or partners of persons who are or have been incarcerated. Constructing more humane, inclusive and sensible drug policies requires more participation of women in their design, implementation and evaluation.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In addition, profound sentencing reforms are needed such that punishments are commensurate with the gravity of the crimes committed. The use, possession and cultivation of drugs for personal use should be decriminalised; no person should go to jail because they choose to put a substance into their own body. In addition, criminal justice systems should be capable of taking attenuating circumstances into account, for example in the case of women who have dependents in their care, or pregnant women. In no case should pregnant and caregiving women accused or convicted of non-violent drug crimes go to jail; instead, alternatives to incarceration should be implemented. Indeed, alternatives to incarceration are less costly and less harmful responses, and more effective for addressing most drug-related offences.</span></p> <p><a href="http://www.wpaonline.org/services/alternative-to-incarceration" style="line-height: 1.5;">JusticeHome</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">, sponsored by the Women’s Prison Association in the United States, provides an interesting alternative to imprisonment. Rather than go to prison, women in the state of New York convicted of a felony and with a sentence of at least six months can be selected to live at home with their children and participate in treatment, education, and employment programmes.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">A good example of legal reforms with a gender perspective can be found in Costa Rica, which in 2013 reduced the penalties for women bringing drugs into prisons. Thanks to the reform, more than 150 women who had been sentenced under the previous law were released. In addition, now, women for whom bringing drugs into prison is their first offence, and who are affected by some of the conditions of vulnerability noted in the new law, can be eligible for alternatives to incarceration, making it possible for them to participate in social insertion programmes aimed at preventing recidivism.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The Costa Rican reform underscores that a human development focus is essential when considering drug policy reforms. Economic development programmes need to be implemented in rural areas where crops for illicit markets are cultivated and in marginalised urban areas where drug markets proliferate. Rather than pouring money into prisons, governments can better spend scarce resources providing education, training, and employment programmes that target women living in vulnerable conditions. For those women who do end up incarcerated, assistance should be provided to help them transition out of prison and to find employment, an even more difficult task with a criminal record.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">“In the Bible, it says that women are…the foundation of the home”, Johana tells us, </span><a href="http://www.wola.org/commentary/women_behind_bars_the_human_cost_of_current_drug_policy_in_the_americas" style="line-height: 1.5;">from her prison in Bogotá</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">. “Well then, help us to be a strong foundation. Many of us are here for our children, how would it be if we had opportunities?”</span></p> <p><em>This article is based on the report, <a href="http://www.wola.org/sites/default/files/WOLA%20WOMEN%20FINAL%20ver%2025%2002%201016.pdf">“Women, Drug Policies, and Incarceration: A Guide to Policy Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean”</a>, published by WOLA, IDPV, CIM/OAS and Dejusticia in February 2016.</em></p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; margin-left: 14px; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and <a href="http://www.cels.org.ar/home/index.php">CELS</a>, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.</span></div></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/drugpolicy/julia-buxton/myths-moralism-and-hypocrisy-drive-international-drug-control-system">Myths, moralism, and hypocrisy drive the international drug control system</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/drugpolicy/carl-hart/nobody-wants-to-live-in-drug-free-world-interview-with-carl-hart">&quot;Nobody wants to live in a drug-free world&quot;: an interview with Carl Hart</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/drugpolicy/luciana-pol/pandora-s-box-real-impact-of-drug-policies">Pandora’s box: the real impact of drug policies</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/drugpolicy/opendemocracy/9-things-we-ve-learned-from-50-year-war-on-drugs">9 things we’ve learned from a 50-year war on drugs</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Civil society Democracy and government drugpolicy Nischa Pieris Coletta A Youngers Tue, 15 Mar 2016 00:11:50 +0000 Coletta A Youngers and Nischa Pieris 100563 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Nischa Pieris https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/nischa-pieris <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Nischa Pieris </div> </div> </div> <p>Nischa Pieris is a gender specialist at the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States.</p> Nischa Pieris Mon, 14 Mar 2016 11:15:58 +0000 Nischa Pieris 100565 at https://www.opendemocracy.net