Review our most recent commentaries and analyses on women, drug policy, and incarceration below.

Colombia to Implement Law on Alternatives to Incarceration for Women Heads of Household

A groundbreaking law that promotes alternatives to incarceration for women could go into force in Colombia as early as August 2022 and be implemented before the end of the year. What does the law mean for women and the punitive penal system? WOLA explores those questions and more. 

August 2022

The Invisible Resistance to Latin America’s Prison Systems

Family members experience a kind of violence that is invisible and institutionalized by prison systems across the region. They are put into extreme positions of vulnerability when they are forced to become the caretakers for their family members inside and outside, when they are shut out of the legal system and left with no recourse to defend their loved ones or themselves, and when they are forced to carry the stigma of prison wherever they go. 

July 2022

Pride Month: Kenya Cuevas and Latin America’s “Historic Debt” with Trans Women

From an early age, the odds stood against her: violence at home, discrimination, abuse on the streets. But Kenya does not believe in odds. At 48, she is the director of a rapidly growing organization in her native Mexico that is stepping in to help those neglected by the State while inspiring a new generation of activists. This is her story.

June 2022

Second Regional Workshop of Formerly Incarcerated Women in Latin America

The Latin American Network of Women Resisting, Bringing Down the Bars, which includes individuals and organizations of formerly incarcerated women and their families, organized a virtual workshop from November 9th to 13th, 2020 that brought together 66 women from 9 countries: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, and Peru. Through a series of panels and working groups, the participants spent five days exchanging information and sharing experiences that help to understand the situation of incarcerated women in Latin American during the pandemic and their demands. They also built strategies to advance the national and international work of the diverse networks of formerly incarcerated women.

March 2021

IACHR 179th Period of Sessions: Women Deprived of Liberty in Latin America have not Benefitted from Government Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis

Seeking to contribute to efforts to find human rights-based solutions to the crisis prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of organizations from the region participated in a public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 19, 2021 to express concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women deprived of liberty in Latin America.

March 19 2021

Written Statement for the 65th Session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women

This joint contribution by the International Drug Policy Consortium, Penal Reform International and WOLA  highlights the increasing levels of women’s incarceration and condemns the punitive policies that result in the deprivation of liberty in the first place, recognizing that such processes prevent the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5. The statement presents recommendations to reduce women’s incarceration, and calls on governments to review drug and criminal justice policies to incorporate a gender perspective and develop alternative approaches that actively promote the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

January 26, 2021

Promoting the Rights of Trans Women Deprived of Liberty in Latin America

Latin America continues to face a profound crisis in its prison systems, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, trans women have faced a disproportionate impact on their human rights as compared to other groups in situations of vulnerability, due to their distinct lived experiences. This declaration by civil society organizations led by or working with trans people urges countries to reduce prison populations and provide alternatives to incarceration, particularly for trans women, and incorporate intersectional perspectives and a differentiated focus that protects the rights of LGBTI+ persons. 

December 16, 2020

Trans Women Behind Bars: Strategies for Resistance in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trans women deprived of liberty has been disproportionate in comparison with other groups, particularly because of the diverse intersectionalities affecting their lives. This piece explores strategies of resistance and policy recommendations discussed by trans women who have been in prison in the workshop “Trans Women Behind Bars: Strategies for Resistance in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic”.

by Teresa García Castro, July 30, 2020

Statement at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council

This joint contribution by the International Drug Policy Consortium, Penal Reform International, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Association for the Prevention of Torture was submitted to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. The statement calls on the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms to pay greater attention to the harm and violations suffered by women who come into contact with criminal justice systems.

June 30, 2020

COVID-19: A Potential Death Sentence for Women Behind Bars in Latin America

As COVID-19 spreads to and within prisons, incarcerated individuals are facing grave and possibly deadly health concerns. The concerns are even more pressing for women, the vast majority of whom are imprisoned for low-level offenses and many of whom are in pretrial detention. This piece offers policy recommendations to reduce the region’s prison population in order to prevent a huge toll in illness and deaths.

by Coletta A. Youngers and Teresa García Castro, April 8, 2020

Submission to the Commission on the Status of Women

This joint contribution by CELS, IDPC, and WOLA was submitted to the sixty fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which marks the twenty fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The paper demonstrates how current drug policies undermine key rights and commitments included in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’s strategic objectives and offers concrete recommendations to address these damaging inconsistencies.

December 10, 2019

Formerly Incarcerated Women in the Americas Connect in First-Ever Regional Workshop

Formerly incarcerated women from eight countries across the Americas are taking steps towards building a regional network to share experiences and push for policy reforms, in the face of a concerning, regionwide increase in incarceration rates that are disproportionately impacting women.

by Teresa García Castro, Aug 22, 2019

Groundbreaking Regional Report Explores the Impact of Drug Policy on Children of Incarcerated Parents

The first-of-its-kind investigation focuses on a rarely-examined crossroads: the rights of children, drug policy, and incarceration.

by Teresa García Castro, May 15, 2019

Submission to the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

The paper, Implementation of the UNGASS Outcome Document to Promote Gender-Sensitive Drug Policies, provides input into the proceedings of the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on several topics including women who use drugs and human rights, women and criminal justice, and the “human face” of female incarceration. It calls for alternatives to criminalization and incarceration, and makes policy recommendations to comply with the gender-related components of the UNGASS Outcome Document. The document was submitted by WOLA and was co-sponsored by IDPC, EQUIS, and Dejusticia. 

March, 2019

Groundbreaking Report Highlights Dangers of Exporting Drug Courts to Latin America and the Caribbean

This analysis focuses on the impact and challenges of the use of drug courts in the Americas.

by Teresa García Castro, December 10, 2018

Women Deprived of Liberty: Joint Submission to the OHCHR Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women

The OHCHR Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice launched a call for contributions for their upcoming report on ‘Women deprived of liberty’. This joint contribution by IDPC, WOLA, CELS, Dejusticia and Equis focuses on the disproportionate impacts of overly punitive drug policies on women in Latin America. This paper provides the latest available data on women incarcerated for drug offenses in Latin America, highlights the key human rights challenges they face in the criminal justice system, and offers policy recommendations.

September, 2018

Side Event at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on the Impact of Drug Policies on Women

At the 61st Session of the CND working group members sponsored and participated in a side event on the impact of drug policies on women. The event focused on the challenges pregnant women who use drugs face and the over incarceration of women for drug offenses.

March, 2018

Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ Report on UNGASS Implementation and Human Rights

This submission was prepared by WOLA, EQUIS: Justicia para las Mujeres (Mexico), IDPC and Dejusticia (Colombia) on behalf of a working group on women, drug policy and incarceration in Latin America, led by the organizations listed above and in collaboration with the OAS Inter-American Commission on Women.

May 18, 2018

Oral Statement at the Human Rights Council 36th Regular Session

In a statement to the Human Rights Council during the 36th Regular Session, Corporación Humanas – Chile, Corporación Humanas – Colombia, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called on the Council to promote gender-sensitive drug policies, and explained the situations of vulnerability many women are in when they enter the drug trade.

September, 2017

Side Event at the 26th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ)

At a side event hosted by IDPC at the 26th Session of the CCPCJ various programs highlighted in the Innovative Approaches were mentioned as positive drug policy and criminal justice reforms.

May 31, 2017

2017 Meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

At the 2017 meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs various members of the working group organized a side event titled “Implementing CND Resolution 59/5: Best Practices in Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Drug Policy”. Ambassador Alicia Buenrostro, Permanent Representative of Mexico, spoke at the event, recommending various reforms that would allow for a gender prospective to be incorporated into drug policy.

March 15, 2017

Working Group Submission on Women, Drug Policy, and Incarceration to United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

The working group put together a briefing submission for the upcoming OHCHR report on human rights and the administration of justice.


Guide Presented to Uruguayan Government Officials

Working group member Coletta Youngers presented the guide to dozens of Uruguayan officials in Montevideo, focusing on the negative impacts that incarceration has on women who are low level drug offenders. To read two articles on the presentation, click here and here.

October 28, 2016

Guide Presented at the International Drug Policy Conference

Working group members mentioned the guide in their panel presentations at Conferencia Drogas, an international drug policy conference. The conference hosted about 500 attendees from all over the Americas.


The Guide is Presented to Public Defenders in the Dominican Republic

The working group presented the guide and spoke with public defenders from all over the Dominican Republic. Their presentation stressed the importance of taking into account the situation of women in the penal system. Click here to read notes from the meeting.

October 6, 2016

Oral Statement to Human Rights Council on the Disproportionate Effects of the Drug War on Women

Working Group members made a joint oral statement on the disproportionate effects of the drug war on women, which has resulted in high incarceration rates and levels of violence, at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council. Click here to read the transcript of the statement

September 30, 2016

Guide Presented to Public Officials and Civil Society Members in Ecuador

In an event organized by the Defensoría Pública of Ecuador and FES, a German foundation, Coletta Youngers discussed the negative effects of incarceration on women throughout the Americas. She presented a reform-minded policy guide on women, drug policy, and incarceration, in addition to examining alternatives to incarceration and ways to bring about sentencing reform.


Guide Presented at CND Side Event

In an event organized by the Defensoría Pública of Ecuador and FES, a German foundation, Coletta Youngers discussed the negative effects of incarceration on women throughout the Americas. She presented a reform-minded policy guide on women, drug policy, and incarceration, in addition to examining alternatives to incarceration and ways to bring about sentencing reform.

March 17, 2016

Working Group Presents Guide at the OAS

In an event at the Organization of American States (OAS), the working group presented their new guide for policymakers and highlighted the human face of female incarceration in the Americas..

February 11, 2016

WOLA & OSF Host Workshop on the Mass Incarceration of Women in the Americas

In an effort to connect Latin American and U.S. activists on this issue, WOLA & OSF convened a workshop to identify common trends and advocacy strategies.

August 17, 2015

Advocating for Reforms at the Organization of American States

Speaking before the Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States, Coletta Youngers presented a statement on the effects of drug policies and incarceration on women in the Americas.

April 29, 2015

Project Presented before the CND 

At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, working group member Marie Nougier (IDPC) presented on the women and incarceration project. The testimony was a major achievement because despite being the leading drug policy arm of the United Nations, the CND has long insulated itself from the growing rejection of punitive drug policies throughout the world.

March 11, 2015