By Ana Jimena Bautista

Why has this situation occurred? One of the main causes stems from the punitive populism that has been applied, characterized by the establishment of disproportionately high penalties, the excessive use of preventive detention, and sentences requiring jail time. In short, the imposition of punishment based on the amount of drugs seized without considering the role of the person committing the action. These are policies that take the form of sanctions, failing to work towards the prevention of drug crimes, significantly undermine the drug market, or prevent organized crime from continuing to thrive.

In this entry, I will refer to those policies implemented in Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, countries that have opted for alternative measures against the traditional punitive response to drug-related crime; measures that seek to reduce the damage caused by prison time on people in vulnerable conditions and who do not hold leadership roles in the drug market. These policies have also taken on the challenge to address inequality and poverty related issues of those who are punished for drug-related crimes, which are predominantly women and young people.

These three experiences show on the one hand that it is possible and useful to apply innovative approaches, but they also highlight the limits of these programs. Because they are predominantly seeking to reduce the damages stemming from the increasing prosecution of individuals linked to drug offenses, they fail to create strong prevention programs that allow for action before criminal behavior takes place and that could reduce the conditions of poverty and lack of opportunities. For example, the predominant profile of women who are involved in drug related crimes is well known: poor women with dependents, with low education levels, unemployed, etc. If so, the aim of these policies should be on counteracting the vulnerability faced by large population sectors that are cannon fodder in the drug market.

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