By Jérôme Mangelinckx
2020 marked the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). There are over 740,000 women and girls in prison worldwide, and although they are a minority compared to the number of men in prison (2 to 9% of national prison populations), their number increases every year, more often at a higher rate.
Drug policies in Latin America have resulted in increasingly harsh penal responses to drug-related offences and have disproportionately affected women. These policies provide very little space to explore non-custodial alternatives and reduce the number of women in prisons, bearing in mind that women are often single mothers who are the primary carers for their children and families.
Unfortunately, Peru is no exception to this trend. In the current context of the so-called War on Drugs there is an increasing need to prioritise the use of non-custodial measures for women who become involved with the criminal justice system. Indeed, women detained for drug-related offences in Peru – almost six out of ten – are all too often in a situation of increased vulnerability or socioeconomic precariousness. Still, they usually are minor actors in the drug trade, especially cocaine trafficking in Peru (and Latin America at large), who bear the full brunt of the law. In addition, like many countries, Peru’s burdened prison system was built to accommodate a male population and takes little account of the specific needs of women – from harsh security measures to scarce work and education programmes, family and conjugal visits and differentiated health-care services.