Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School

Women in Prison in Argentina: Causes, Conditions, and Consequences

Avon Global Center Releases New Report on Women's Imprisonment in Argentina

In May 2013, Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and International Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, and the Public Defender's Office in Argentina released a new report on the causes, conditions, and consequences of women’s imprisonment in Argentina, finding that women and their families are disproportionately affected by the harsh penalties imposed for low-level drug offences in Argentina. Drawing on data collected from a survey of nearly 30% of women incarcerated in Argentina federal prisons, onsite visits to two prisons in Argentina, and interviews with women prisoners, activists, judges, and other stakeholders, the report examines the crucial issues for women deprived of their liberty. To read the full report, click here.

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Panelists discuss women's imprisonment in Argentina at report launch held in Chicago in May. Panel event marks the launch of the Avon Global Center's new report on the causes conditions and consequences of women in prison in Argentina. The Avon Global Center and the University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic hosted a panel to mark the launch of a new report on women's imprisonment in Argentina. International Human Rights Clinic student Jamie Stinson speaking at a panel on women's imprisonment in Argentina.

The Report finds that policies introduced in Argentina during the U.S. "War on Drugs" weigh down the Argentine federal prison system and impede effective reform. These policies have contributed to the unprecedented increase in the number of women deprived of their liberty - nearly 200% between 1990 and 2012. The results of the survey found that about 56% of women in federal prisons were incarcerated for drug trafficking, and over 40% were pretrial detainees, most of whom were being held for drug-related offenses.

Despite the effect Argentina's drug laws have had on women, the Report notes that Argentina has demonstrated a willingness to develop and implement gender-specific initiatives, including house arrest and programs that allow children to live with their mothers in prison. Yet some women prisoners expressed concern that living in a prison environment would harm their children.

The Report identifies several reforms that would improve the treatment of women in the prison system and allow the government to meet the gender-specific needs of incarcerated women. Among the key recommendations: reduce drug trafficking sentences for women who are at the bottom of the chain and offer alternatives to incarceration; reduce the use and length of pre-trial detention; and ensure that all prisoners receive timely access to medical care and screening. The Report also encourages the United States to continue its move towards reducing or eliminating harsh punishments for drug crimes and to effect similar changes in its foreign policies towards Argentina and other countries in the region. In addition, it urges the United States and other countries to consider adopting the good practices implemented by Argentina, such as its law that allows judges to consider house arrest for pregnant women and women with young children.

The study was undertaken at the invitation of Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco, Vice President of the Supreme Court of Argentina, who also wrote the foreword to the report. She notes, "The researchers' report makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the causes, conditions, and consequences of women's imprisonment in Argentina. . . . It highlights Argentina's good practices in the area of women in prison and identifies improvements that are still needed. This study reminds us - judges, lawyers, policy makers, and citizens - that we are all accountable for the human rights of women in prison."

The Report was launched at a panel discussion on May 14th at the University of Chicago Law School, co-hosted by the Avon Global Center and moderated by Professor Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.  The panel was preceded by a meeting of experts on the causes, conditions and consequences of women’s imprisonment globally, which was convened by the University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic on behalf of Professor Manjoo.  About 35 experts from the U.S., U.K., Russia, and Argentina participated in the meeting, including policy advocates, impact litigators, scholars, service providers, and senior department of corrections officials.  Center Executive Director Elizabeth Brundige and Cornell Law students Erika Lopez, Wade Poziomka, and Jamie Stimson participated as speakers in these events.