By Penal Reform International

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules), we, the undersigned, express alarm at the increase in the global female prison population by around 100,000 since the adoption of the Rules – which aim to reduce the imprisonment of women – and the continuing discrimination and abuse experienced by women in criminal justice systems.

The number of women in prison is rising at an alarming rate, even though women are typically convicted of low-level non-violent crimes. Women are disproportionately impacted by punitive drug policies and often commit crimes in poverty to keep themselves and their families alive. Many find themselves in prison as a direct result of discrimination.

As a minority in prisons, representing on average 2-9% of national prison populations, women are often not provided with access to programmes and services to support their rehabilitation that address their specific needs and characteristics. There is also a mental health crisis among women in prison, with up to 80% living with an identifiable mental illness, which has been compounded by measures related to preventing and addressing the spread of COVID-19.

Women around the world continue to face threats to their dignity and humanity in detention. They are often unable to access adequate healthcare and are at particularly high risk of sexual assault and humiliation in prison. In some countries, women are even restrained during labour and birth or placed in solitary confinement whilst pregnant or caring for an infant child.