Women who smuggle drugs into Costa Rica prisons will face lighter sentences

An amendment to Costa Rica’s Narcotics Law minimizes the imprisonment of women in vulnerable situations. (Courtesy of Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Organization)

An amendment to Costa Rica’s Narcotics Law minimizes the imprisonment of women in vulnerable situations. (Courtesy of Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Organization)

By Mario Garita / ISH

December 2nd, 2013 (ISH) Thanks to a new article in Costa Rica’s Narcotics Law, women convicted of bringing drugs into the country’s prisons will face lighter sentences, according to the Ministry of Justice.

This measure will initially benefit 100 women currently serving sentences for this specific crime.

The legislation, which was signed by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla on Aug. 13, mandates a prison term of three to eight years for those convicted of bringing drugs into the country’s prisons. Previously, it was punishable by between eight and 20 years behind bars.

In addition to reducing sentences, the change provides judges with the flexibility to consider alternative sentences, such as house arrest or assignment to one of the country’s 10 halfway houses. One hundred twenty women are residing in halfway houses, with more expected in the wake of the modified law, according to the General Directorate of Social Rehabilitation.

“These women are convicted like any other drug trafficker moving a large quantity of drugs, when it’s clear that, in many cases, they’re being compelled to commit this crime due to the adverse circumstances that they face in our society,” Rep. Carmen Muñoz said.

This benefit will be extended to women living in poverty, heads of households, those who are responsible for minors, older adults in vulnerable situations and the disabled, Muñoz added.

“We’re not saying they shouldn’t be penalized. These women who bring in drugs on a small scale aren’t criminals, but they’re breaking the law. But they’re doing so because they’re experiencing conditions of vulnerability and submission,” she said. “A high percentage of female inmates fit this profile.”

At the halfway houses, inmates are given a place to stay and allowed to accept paid jobs at the center or local businesses. They also can be visited by family members weekly.

“We all agree that harsh sentencing creates more negative consequences for them, their children and their families,” Muñoz said.

El Buen Pastor prison, which is in the district of Desamparados, is the only facility for female inmates in the Central American nation. A total of 780 inmates – of which 511 were sentenced for infractions related to drugs and 120 were serving sentences for bringing drugs into prison facilities – were housed in the facility as of March 2012, according to prison officials.

“Indeed, these women are used as scapegoats for a much larger chain,” said Marta Muñoz, the director of the prison’s Office of the Ombudsman.

Women account for 7% of the country’s 13,000 inmates. A total of 50.8% of female inmates are single, but 96.67% have children. Additionally, half of the female inmates at the El Buen Pastor prison have three or more children, and 90% reported not having a stable income when they were convicted.

“Women are the weakest link along the chain of drug trafficking organizations,” Chinchilla said in August upon signing the amendment into law. “There are no female kingpins here, just pawns of the drug trade. These are women in vulnerable situations who, in a moment of desperation, to make sure they can feed their children, decide to sell drugs.”

Rep. Annie Saborío said no tolerance will be shown toward repeat offenders or those who associate with criminal organizations, as they’ll face prison sentences between eight and 20 years if they’re convicted.

“We’re ensuring that justice is served for those women who are facing pressure from their partners, due to their financial situation or from their family members,” Saborío said. “We deserve a law that differentiates between major drug traffickers and small quantities of drugs smuggled into prison facilities.”

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    • toolman78

      Giving women special treatment, how is that not unconstitutional? As far as I know they have something about gender equality in there somewhere. The idea isn’t bad but the wording needs to lose any reference to gender and focus on the socioeconomic position of the criminal.

    • expatin paradise

      Women always get off easier by the courts, as is evidenced by the fact that only 7% of prisoners are women. Why aren’t the courts allowed to give same considerations to men who are “living in poverty, heads of households, those who are responsible for minors, older adults in vulnerable situations and the disabled?” Don’t their families suffer hardships when they are incarcerated?

      Assuming that women are victims and giving them special consideration simply because they are women will never result in the gender equality to which this government pays lip service. With this measure, the government is essentially declaring women “the weaker sex” and ensuring that gender equality will not be seen in Costa Rica any time soon.

    • Ken Morris

      Agree with the other posts. The deepest irony is how this belittles women by presupposing that they are less able to act responsibly and are more vulnerable to pressures than men. This is sexism against women (as well as men) in the name of feminism, and I can’t fathom a rational person writing it into law. It’s fine if a judge considers these kinds of circumstances in any given case, but a blanket law is simply wrong.

    • mhogan

      Gender equality — seems one gender is more equal than the other.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fhuh.kew Fhuh Kew

      Now Ken. When have you ever heard of a rational Tico ? Don Pepe died years ago.
      If any laws should be written one should be to never allow those two words on a sheet of paper together.