Formerly incarcerated women from eight countries across the Americas are taking steps towards building a regional network to share experiences and push for policy reforms, in the face of a concerning, regionwide increase in incarceration rates that are disproportionately impacting women.

In the first-ever regional workshop to bring together formerly incarcerated women from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States, participants aimed to examine the situation of formerly incarcerated women in the Americas, identify the commonalities among them, and share strategies of organization and resistance, with the ultimate goal of building the foundations of a regional network of women from the Americas who have been in prison.

The workshop, titled “Women Resisting, Bringing Down Bars,” was organized by Corporacion Humanas Colombia, Free Women (Mujeres Libres, Colombia), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and took place in Bogota, Colombia, on July 17-18, 2019. Some 66 participants were involved, including 45 formerly incarcerated women, several family members, and representatives from other accompanying organizations.

The ample research and testimonies shared in the workshop provided stark evidence that criminal justice systems across the Americas are based on a culture of punishment which has been extremely detrimental to women, their families and their communities, while also failing to provide the resources and tools for women to rebuild their lives when leaving prison. Current incarceration policies criminalize poverty, violate women’s rights, and reinforce cycles of violence.