In Latin America, some of the most perverse consequences of the drug war have been borne by women, many of whom are caught in a cycle of poverty or addiction that motivates their involvement in the small-scale sale or transport of drugs.

7 Aug 2015

A recent photo essay published by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) vividly illustrates this cruel reality. In the Buen Pastor prison in Costa Rica, where the photos were taken, over 90 percent of the incarcerated women have three or more children who depend on them. A surge in the number of women imprisoned for drug offenses has worsened conditions in already overcrowded prisons and left the families of these women deeper in poverty.

Once released from prison, these women struggle to find employment, lacking the skills or opportunities needed to make ends meet. As a result, some return to selling or transporting drugs, furthering a vicious cycle of incarceration and poverty.

WOLA’s project is aimed at reforming drug policies to provide for more alternatives to incarceration and changes in sentencing practices for nonviolent drug offenders, particularly women. The WOLA project is one of a number of efforts supported by Open Society that seek to advance human rights and public health approaches to drug control, and to reform criminal justice policies that fuel mass incarceration and have a disproportionate impact on the poor.

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