Alumni Short

Poverty, Violence, and Drugs: Causes and Consequences of Women's Imprisonment in Jamaica

On April 18, 2016, three students in the Global Gender Justice Clinic—Lucía Domínguez-Cisneros, Carolina Morales, and Aysha Valery—presented on the research they have done this semester as part of a joint project on the causes and consequences of women’s imprisonment in Jamaica. These students have spent the semester drafting sections of a report on this topic, based on extensive secondary research and interviews conducted with judges and other justice system actors in Jamaica in January 2016.

The students noted that there is currently a lack of research on women’s imprisonment in the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica, as the majority of literature on this topic is centered on other countries and on men. Indeed, many prisons and justice systems are designed with men in mind and do not sufficiently address women’s specific needs. Students also noted that the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders—also known as the Bangkok Rules—provides a framework for policymakers to ensure that women prisoners are treated humanely, provided gender-specific healthcare, and are allowed to remain in contact with their families, among other protections.

At the event, the students presented preliminary findings on the causes of women’s imprisonment in Jamaica, highlighting poverty, violence (including gang violence and domestic violence), and the enforcement of anti-drug policies targeting low-level drug offenses as major contributing factors. They also discussed gaps in the criminal justice system—such as inconsistent sentencing policies, the overuse of pre-trial detention, and ineffective counsel or lack of access to legal aid—as further contributing to women’s imprisonment.

Furthermore, the students identified that the consequences of women’s imprisonment in Jamaica on women, their families, and their communities appear no less acute. Women may experience poor physical and mental health upon leaving prison and face an inability to procure well-paying employment, while family structures can disintegrate and communities often face instability in the absence of women, who frequently are the sole heads of their households in Jamaica. These consequences of women’s imprisonment may then contribute to a cycle of poverty that can lead to further incarceration of women and their children.