Over 53 percent of women in Mexican prisons are being held for low-level drug offenses. Most of these women are from lower income families and are mothers or heads of household, so their incarceration has a huge impact on the family and future generations, according to women's rights activists.
"Most women are poor and marginalized and return to the same scenario, but with the added stigma of having been in prison which reduces their opportunities," criminologist and anthropologist Elena Azaola Garrido told teleSUR Sunday, referring to life after these women are released from prison.
Azaola Garrido, as well as Mexico's women's rights organization, Equis, have long been fighting for prison reform for women in the country. This begins with changing Mexico's policing and judicial system and how they treat low-level drug-related crimes, but also how they detain women, particularly those with families.
At the moment there are over 13,000 women detained across Mexico, the majority of which are for the possession or sale of marijuana, Azaola Garrido told teleSUR via email. In many of these cases the women are the main caretakers of their families, which sometimes results in their children living with them in prisons.
According to Azaol Garrido, there are currently over 400 kids living with their mothers in Mexico prisons, what are renown for having high rates of human rights abuses.
Friday, a new study was released by Equis and presented in Mexico City, entitled “Reform Proposals in Cases of Women Incarcerated for Drug Offenses in Mexico.”
According to the research, more than 2,000 women were arrested for drug-trafficking in 2013, almost all of whom were poor, had low education levels, worked in the informal economy and had no criminal record.
In these cases, 44 percent of the female inmates were arrested for transporting drugs and 30 percent for possession.
The sales of drugs in these cases was an option to earn money in order to support their families, without needing to spend a lot of time away from them. Also, in many cases, the women were not aware of the harsh penalties that could be applied for trafficking, the study states.
According to Azaola Garrido, the type of drugs the women are found with varies, but the most common is marijuana, she told teleSUR. The criminologist also added that the courts do not distinguish between different kinds of drug offenses, so even the possession of marijuana, a low-level drug offence, could land you in prison for the minimum of 10 years.
At the reports presentation in Mexico City Friday, Azaola Garrido emphasized that most women arrested for these offences are not part of organized crime rings, but rather are used as scapegoats. But the judges do not take that into consideration when handing down harsh sentences.
Some of the reforms suggested by Equis include: the implementation of alternatives to detention centers, such as house detention; court recognition of whether or not the defendant has a criminal record; a thorough review of the crimes against health, including pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers; as well as the decriminalization of drugs or the increase of doses one is legally allowed to carry.
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