By Penal Reform International, Linklaters LLP, International Drug Policy Consortium
Drug‑related offences are known to have a particular and disproportionate impact on women. Eighty-two per cent of all women in prison in Thailand are imprisoned for a drug offence; in the Philippines, the proportion of women in prison for a drug offence is 53% and in Peru and Costa Rica it is more than 60%.
This report considers five key questions relating to the sentences imposed on women for drug‑related offences across criminal justice systems in 18 jurisdictions. The research was undertaken by Linklaters LLP for Penal Reform International on a pro bono basis, and is co-published by Penal Reform International, Linklaters LLP, and the International Drug Policy Consortium. The study is instrumental in building a better understanding of the case law around women accused of drug‑related offences and forms a solid basis for the development of policy guidance and recommendations to legislators and sentencing authorities (which will be published in 2020).
Some key findings:
- The complex reasons and pathways of women’s confrontation with criminal justice systems for drug‑related offences are not adequately reflected in legislation or (where existing) sentencing guidelines, nor sentencing practices across the 18 jurisdictions.
- While there is a variety of considerations mentioned in a number of jurisdictions’ legal instruments that can mitigate culpability or lessen a sentence for a woman prosecuted or convicted for drug‑related offences, the impact on their sentence received is less certain.
- Factors typically include consideration of pregnancy, single-parent status, or other circumstances such as experience of violence or coercion, role in the crime, or status of vulnerability. Where such factors are explicitly mentioned, they are given weight of differing degrees or discretion is limited by the applicable law or sentencing guidelines (including mandatory minimum sentences), thus limiting their impact. In cases where they have been taken into account, it is difficult to quantify the effect on the sentence given.
- In a number of jurisdictions covered, non-custodial sentences are the more common form of sentences for low‑level drug‑related offences for women (for example, in England and Wales, Germany and New Zealand). In contrast, in Russia, non-custodial sentences are only issued in about 4% of drug‑related offences cases.
Jurisdictions covered by the study are: Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, England and Wales, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and the United States.