Female and imprisoned :: Double punishment

More than 36,000 women will not be remembered on this March 8. The date that celebrates the women’s struggle for equality does not include those who are serving a sentence or awaiting trial in one of Brazil’s prisons.

Prisoners should only lose their right to freedom. All other rights, such as the right to health, social security and work, must be guaranteed by the State. But this is not what is happening in women’s prisons. Female prisoners are deprived of everything – from the most basic supplies, such as soap and sanitary towels, to legal and medical services. According to data from June 2013 from the Ministry of Justice, there is just one gynecologist for every 1,700 women.

The situation is made worse as they are forgotten. Many female prisoners are prevented from spending time with their children – a right that ought to be guaranteed by the State. Most do not receive visits from parents or partners with any regularity.

“The Brazilian prison situation is a veritable calamity,” said Juana Kweitel, director of Conectas, “but the reality for incarcerated women is even more severe, since public policies for prisons, which are already limited, do not consider the specific circumstances of women”.

The problem is getting quickly worse. The number of female prisoners has increased 111% over the past 7 years. A large part of this increase is due to the approval, in 2006, of the new Drug Law, which disproportionately increases minimum sentences for crimes related to the sale of illicit substances. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of female prisoners sentenced for drug-related crimes has risen 290%.

These women were quickly absorbed into the prison system, but they do not have adequate access to justice – just like what generally occurs with the entire the prison population. Public defenders are in short supply, judges and prosecutors are remiss and many prisoners have no knowledge at all about the progress of their cases. This, in part, explains the large number of female prisoners who have never been convicted of a crime. According to data from June 2013 from the Ministry of Justice, 40% of all female prisoners are pre-trial detainees.

“Women already have their role and their place limited by a patriarchal society. When they are arrested, they are doubly punished – for being a woman and for the alleged crime,” said Marcos Fuchs, associate director of Conectas. “In practice, this means that prison worsens the situation of gender inequality in our society.”

A campaign by Conectas highlights that female prisoners cannot be punished for being women 

Created for International Women’s Day, the campaign by Conectas highlights the treatment that is received by female inmates in the prison system in Brazil and which is experienced every day of the year. While many women receive flowers, jewelry, chocolate or clothes on International Women’s Day, the country’s female prisoners dream of more simple things – like tampons.

Supported by the J. Walter Thompson agency, which also created the Criminal Justice Network campaign against abusive searches, the campaign was published on International Women’s Day and draws attention to the cruel and unjust reality that occurs on a daily basis within women’s prisons. The piece, without being sensationalist, is a clear and objective account of what happens to women in most prisons.

From toilet paper to gynecological care, many women do not have the bare necessities for serving their sentence in a decent manner.

The campaign can be viewed here.

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