The Women, Incarceration and Drug Policy in South East Asia project aims to increase engagement of community and civil society organisations in advocacy for drug policy reform in Southeast Asia, to result in improved outcomes for human rights, the rule of law, and ultimately reductions in the numbers of women in prison, detention and on death row for drug offences.

Context

In 2013, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice estimated that globally one in five prisoners were incarcerated for drug offences. However, the proportion of women incarcerated for drug offences was significantly higher than that of men, with the highest percentages to be found in Latin America and South East Asia. In countries like Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela, more than 60% of women in prison are incarcerated for a drug offence. In the Philippines and Thailand, this proportion reaches 60% and 82% respectively.

Entrance to a women's prison in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Source: Greg Gray.
 

The many concerns faced by women held in detention or prison include drug dependence and mental health problems which are often linked to histories of abuse and trauma, vulnerability to sexual abuse by correctional personnel and other prisoners, reproductive healthcare needs, being primary caretakers of young children but separated from them, and barriers to maintaining contact with and/or visitations by family members visitation, eg. due to the remote location of women prisons. It is also more difficult for women with a history of incarceration for drug offences to find employment, housing and financial support when they return to their communities, due to the high level of stigma attached to involvement in the illicit drug trade or any drug-related activity.

Despite the rising numbers of women incarcerated for drug offences worldwide – and especially in South East Asia – because women and girls only represent less than 10% of the prison population on average, their characteristics and specific needs have largely been unrecognised and ignored by decision makers in the implementation of drug laws and within the criminal justice system.  

About this Project

The Women, Incarceration and Drug Policy in South East Asia project aims to increase engagement of community and civil society organisations in advocacy for drug policy reform in Southeast Asia, to result in improved outcomes for human rights, the rule of law, and ultimately reductions in the numbers of women in prison, detention and on death row for drug offences.

The project is implemented by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) in collaboration with NoBox Transitions (Philippines), Ozone Foundation (Thailand) and LBH Masyarakat (Indonesia). It seeks to build upon the concept, modus operandi, successful outcomes and lessons learned of the ongoing project in Latin America. In accordance with UN standards including the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders ('the Bangkok Rules') and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (‘the Tokyo Rules’), this project aims to promote reforms towards reducing the levels of incarceration of women for drug offences, by achieving the following outcomes amongst government agencies and civil society organisations whose work relate to this issue:

  1. Increased civil society engagement in supporting proportionate sentencing, and reductions in incarceration and death penalty sentences for female drug offenders, especially for low-level, non-violent offences
  2. Increased understanding of the extent and profile of women incarcerated for drug offences, and its wider socio-economic consequences
  3. Increased understanding of sentencing practices and alternatives to incarceration (eg.  referrals to drug treatment programmes for people dependent on drugs), that could help ensure proportionate sentencing, and reduced levels of incarceration and use of death penalty sentences for female drug offenders, especially for low-level, non-violent offences

The project also provides an opportunity to engage with drug policy reform more generally and to make recommendations that could influence policies affecting other groups, for example, sentencing policies that effectively imprison people for poverty or belonging to an already marginalised group. 

Country policy guides