Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School - Burnt Umber Background

Gender Relationships, Drug Policy and Prison in Latin America

On October 7, 2015, the Avon Global Center, together with the Berger International Studies Program and the International Human Rights Clinic, co-hosted Ms. Corina Giacomello, a researcher with the National Institute of Penal Science in Mexico, for a talk on "Gender Relationships, Drug Policy and Prison in Latin America."

During her presentation, Ms. Giacomello described how women across the Americas are being incarcerated for minor, non-violent, drug-related crimes at an alarming rate. In Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica, well over 60 percent of each country's female prison population is incarcerated for drug-related crimes; in Ecuador, that number tops 80 percent. Total prison populations in Latin America have grown as well, increasing by as much as 130 percent between 2004 and 2013 for men and women combined. The policies that have led to this increase have torn apart families and crippled women's abilities to find decent, legal employment once they have been released, perpetuating a vicious cycle of desperation and incarceration. 

Ms. Giacomello further explained how women get involved in the drug trade, and that they generally hold lower ranking positions. She also described how the imprisonment of mothers and caregivers in particular 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 distribution as a way to survive poverty or as a result of coercion by intimate partners.


Corina Giacomello

Ms. Corina Giacomello (left), with Avon Center's Executive Director Elizabeth Brundige (middle) and Professor Sandra Babcock (right).