The number of women in prison for drug-related offenses has increased since the 1980s, rising sharply since the 1990s. This has occurred worldwide, and Latin America is no exception. Women increasingly enter drug-trafficking circuits as consumers, low-level dealers and local (including in prison), national and international transporters. In various countries around the world, the female penitentiary population has grown faster than the male, although women are still the minority.
This paper analyzes the roles played by women in criminal networks in Latin America and the means by which they become involved, highlighting the ways in which gender relations and socio-economic factors shape the configuration of international drug trafficking networks and women’s participation. It also critically examines the main characteristics of the region’s penitentiary systems from a gender standpoint. Finally, it offers a series of conclusions and proposals aimed at promoting a review and reform of drug and penitentiary policies.