Drug Policy and the Right to Justice

“Incarcerating high numbers of women removes them from their families and violates their rights”

Punitive responses to drug offenses remain a decisive factor in the increase in the prison population, along with inhumane detention conditions. The panelists focused on this reality to engage in an active discussion.

Priscilla Chavez Mendez, spokesperson for women incarcerated for minor drug offenses in Costa Rica, gave an emotional speech related to the issues she experienced when she was arrested for a drug offense, an activity that had to do with economic desperation to keep her four children. “Many women are deprived of their families and their rights to be imprisoned,” Priscila said and complained of “vulnerable situations that lead you to commit these acts”. She reflected that “we do not open eyes in time.”

Maria Cristina Meneses Sotomayor, Public Defender from Ecuador, said that “drug policy is wrongly framed as criminal policies.” On the other hand, she said that “drug reforms within the criminal law in Ecuador has helped people with small amounts of drugs to not be imprisoned.” She also stressed that “the percentage of women in prison in Ecuador decreased by 43 percent” due to the policy.

Meanwhile, Zhuyen Molina Murillo, Public Defender of Costa Rica charged with the unit of Gender, Crime and Legislative Advocacy, said the reform “must be based in human rights” and that “the law 9161 means that rights are paramount.” “This was the main tool for the release of hundreds of women like Priscilla Chavez and allowed them to reunite with their families, since many of these women did not have many opportunities before committing the crime. ” For this public official, “the great challenge is the proportionality of punishment, human rights, we need to continue studying and researching and hear these stories like Priscila’s that touch hearts”.

The researcher from the Center for Citizen Security Studies at the University of Chile, Diego Piñol developed a report on lessons learned from drug courts in Chile. For the academic, courts “have no legal recognition and is only possible thanks to an agreement between the operators of the judicial system and the health sector”. On the other hand, he said that “judges and prosecutors have trouble interpreting serious diagnoses, to know and be able to assess treatment processes, knowledge about addictions and motivational processes, adherence, and rehabilitation.”

The official discussant was researcher Alejandro Corda from Intercambios Civil Association and member of the Drug Studies and Law Collective(CEDD), who said that “the population arrested for drug possession grows every day in prisons in the region, and it is clear that it is a social problem.” “Health and treatment for these individuals is a right and they should not be imprisoned because this generates greater vulnerability and increasing poverty in the communities.”

Coletta Youngers, a research affiliate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) moderated the panel.