About the Project

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.

The COVID-19 and Persons Deprived of Liberty Information Hub and Collaborative Platform

To face this challenge, WOLA has joined the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) project, the Information Hub on COVID-19 and Persons Deprived of Liberty. The hub is a digital one-stop center for different types of information pertaining to persons deprived of liberty including news reports, guidelines, legislation, declarations or reports by international bodies, as well as other practical tools. Go to Information Hub.

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

Across Latin America, the effects of disproportionate punishment for low-level, non-violent drug offenses are particularly severe for women. To shed light on this issue, WOLA has created a series of photo essays to show the human cost of current drug policies in the Americas. The essays tell the stories of six women, each providing a unique insight into the deeply troubling cycle of poverty, low-level involvement, imprisonment, and recidivism into which women are too often pushed.