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Women in Prison: The Devastating Impact of Rising Incarceration in the Americas

Women in Prison: The Devastating Impact of Rising Incarceration in the Americas (January 17, 2019)

Women’s incarceration around the world is growing at an astounding and disproportionate rate. Between 2000 and 2017, the total female prison population worldwide increased by 53 percent, while that of men increased by only 19 percent. Punitive drug laws are the driving force behind women’s imprisonment: most women are behind bars for minor, nonviolent drug offenses. These women typically have little or no schooling, live in poverty, and are mothers. They usually enter into the drug trade out of economic necessity or because it is a family business, and some are coerced by intimate partners or abusive family members. 

Mass incarceration and overly punitive drug policies destroy women’s lives and thwart economic opportunities while harming their children, families, and communities. Moreover, these women—and affected communities more broadly—are largely ignored in policymaking circles. To confront these challenges, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Equis Justicia para las Mujeres have been working together to raise the voices of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in Latin America through a variety of advocacy tools and activities.

What are the most recent trends regarding women’s incarceration in the Americas? What are the innovative strategies being launched to counter this phenomenon? And how are affected women coming together and organizing for reform? This event will explore these and other questions. A short video filmed in the women’s prison in Oaxaca, Mexico will also be shown.

A reception will follow the panel discussion.


  • Kasia Malinowska


    Kasia Malinowska is director of Drugs Policy at the Open Society Foundations.

  • Soheila Comninos


    Soheila Comninos is a program officer in the Open Society Foundations’ Human Rights Initiative.

  • Coletta Youngers


    Coletta Youngers is a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), where she has worked since 1987, and a senior associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium. 

  • Ana Pecova


    Ana Pecova is executive director of EQUIS Justicia para las Mujeres, a Mexican nonprofit organization that works to promote access to justice for women. 

  • Andrea James


    Andrea James is the founder and executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, founder of Families for Justice as Healing, and author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration

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