IACHR Presents Report on Women Deprived of Liberty in the Americas

June 26, 2023

Report on Women Deprived of Liberty in the Americas

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has presented a new report entitled Women Deprived of Liberty in the Americas. The publication analyzes the predicament of incarcerated women in the region along with the factors that lead to their detention, the obstacles to accessing alternative measures, and the challenges they face in reintegrating into society, with a particular focus on the countries of Northern Central America.

This report is the IACHR's first regional study on female incarceration and is a preliminary examination of the issue. Its aim is to start an inter-American conversation on female incarceration based on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The intention is for these to serve as a benchmark for States in the region when adopting or reviewing criminal and penitentiary policy measures that affect women's rights, particularly for special risk groups.

One of the central findings of the report is the unprecedented increase in the rates of deprivation of freedom among women in the region. Women account for 8% of the prison population in the Americas, a figure that has increased by 56.1% in the last 22 years, while the overall prison population has grown by 24.5%.

This trend is explained by the implementation of hard-line drug policies entailing a prohibitionist, repressive approach that seeks to eradicate the illicit drug market by prioritizing incarceration over alternatives to prison. The report posits that in northern Central America, policies to combat organized crime are what has caused the increase in female incarceration, as they propose higher levels of incarceration as a solution to the problems of citizen insecurity.

It also notes that women prisoners face a lack of gender-sensitive prison policies and expeditious measures that take their needs into account. This has a disproportionate impact on their lives and increases their risk of becoming victims of violence and discrimination. This primarily affects women in especially vulnerable situations, such as pregnant women, postpartum women, breastfeeding women, trans women, and children who live with their mothers in prison.

The report also highlights the fact that, notwithstanding the efforts of some States to incorporate a gender perspective in the regulation and application of alternative measures, incarceration continues to be the priority response to certain crimes. Likewise, regulations that contemplate gender-sensitive alternatives do not allegedly incorporate this approach comprehensively, such that some specific gender-derived needs are left out, thus preventing certain women from benefiting from them.

Moreover, the scarcity of gender-sensitive social reintegration policies means that women face greater challenges for their reintegration into the community than men after being released from prison. Specifically, their lack of support networks and discrimination against them leads to challenges such as a lack of job opportunities or housing. This perpetuates structural discrimination against them by placing them in a situation of social and economic disadvantage.

The report is organized into six chapters that analyze female imprisonment and its causes, the particular risk that women face and the disproportionate impact of detention, challenges around the application of alternative measures to imprisonment, the obstacles faced by women in reintegrating into society, and the conclusions, which include recommendations to guarantee women's rights in criminal justice systems.

The recommendations listed include the following: 1) adopt measures to incorporate a gender perspective when women are prosecuted; 2) implement penitentiary policies with a gender perspective that are respectful of intersectional and intercultural approaches that consider discrimination, stereotypes, risk, and violation of rights during detention; and 3) incorporate the gender perspective and intercultural and intersectional approaches in the creation of alternative measures to prison and the design and implementation of social reintegration policies.

The IACHR will continue to closely and constantly monitor the predicament of women deprived of their freedom in the Americas, paying special attention to the measures adopted by States in the region to implement the recommendations made in this, the first-ever study on the issue. To this end, the IACHR emphasized and reiterated its full willingness to cooperate with States in implementing these recommendations.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 135/23

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