I spent 9 years in a Colombian girls’s jail. That is what I realized | Claudia Cardona

I spent 9 years in a Colombian girls’s jail. That is what I realized | Claudia Cardona

When I began my jail sentence in Bogotá, Colombia, it was 2008 and I used to be 31 with a four-year-old daughter. I used to be imprisoned for 9 years and three months. I don’t inform folks the explanation I went to jail. Not for me, however for all of the free girls who face so many issues due to the time they spent in jail. My crime doesn’t make me the individual I’m.

Most ladies in Colombia commit crime out of a necessity to supply for his or her households. They’re judged and punished with out society or the justice system taking the circumstances surrounding the crime into consideration.

When girls go to jail for the primary time, most don’t know something about jail. They’ve of their heads what they’ve seen in movies; girls don’t know what is going to occur to them and go into jail very scared. Nobody explains something. You’re despatched to the cell and it’s the opposite girls who let you know how issues work.


Information – the rise in feminine prisoners all over the world


Greater than 740,000 girls and ladies are in jail all over the world. The quantity has grown by nearly 60% since 2000, practically 3 times the rise within the male jail inhabitants of about 22%. The worldwide feminine jail inhabitants rose by greater than 100,000 between 2010 and 2020.

Girls – who signify between 2% and 9% of nationwide jail populations – are sometimes imprisoned on account of home violence, discriminatory legal guidelines or crimes dedicated due to poverty. Girls are additionally disproportionately affected by punitive drug insurance policies.

In 2010, the Bangkok Guidelines had been adopted by the UN to cut back the imprisonment of ladies by selling noncustodial alternate options and addressing the causes of their offending. But over the previous decade, in each area besides Europe, numbers have risen.

In Colombia, most ladies in jail haven’t dedicated violent crimes and are finishing up sentences for his or her first offence, in accordance with analysis by the Worldwide Committee of the Pink Cross (ICRC).

The variety of girls in jail within the nation elevated from 1,500 in 1991 to 7,944 in June 2018 – a 429% enhance, in contrast with 300% for males over the identical interval. Greater than half (53.4%) of ladies stated that they had dedicated against the law for causes associated to financial hardship.

Locking girls up has an impression on households. On the time of their imprisonment, 85% of the Colombian girls had been moms and 54% lived with kids beneath 18, the ICRC discovered. The trauma of the separation and the social and financial pressures related to it may make them crime, thereby persevering with the cycle of offending.

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The meals is horrible. I’d get meat that seemed as if it was decomposing; it smelled and seemed dangerous. Meals was usually burned and juices additionally smelled dangerous. Soups had been principally water. Everybody needed to eat it – it was that or nothing.

The jail in Bogotá is likely one of the greatest in Colombia, housing 1,859 girls. There may be one physician on obligation through the day and one other at evening. Girls can’t get appointments. There are many sick folks and a scarcity of specialist care.

There isn’t any one to deal with gynaecological illnesses. There isn’t any one to check for most cancers, or to hold out breast exams. There are such a lot of flaws within the system when it comes to reproductive and sexual well being. I suffered uterine issues and used to get sturdy cramps and heavy bleeding. I used to be given ibuprofen for the ache and needed to make do.

After I left jail and went to see a gynaecologist I used to be scolded for not in search of medical consideration earlier. I needed to have a hysterectomy as a result of I had uterine fibroids that had gone untreated.

I used to be fortunate I had work in jail and will afford sanitary towels. Different girls solely acquired 10 sanitary towels each three months. That’s not sufficient for one menstrual cycle. Girls would minimize off a little bit of their mattress to make use of, or would make tampons with wool or thread, which may trigger infections.

Many prisoners expertise psychological well being difficulties attributable to being aside from their households. It’s not like they cease being a mom, or a daughter, once they get to jail. It causes anxiousness and melancholy to have these roles however be powerless to fulfil them. There are numerous suicide makes an attempt and self-harm is widespread due to this.

My daughter was concerned in a visitors accident and needed to go to hospital. I used to be despatched pictures of her bleeding face and will do completely nothing however cry.

After I acquired out, my daughter was a teen. In as a lot as I went by troublesome instances being denied my liberty and rights, she suffered by not having a mom.

I used to be scared to depart jail as a result of I didn’t know what I’d do for cash. Fortuitously, I used to be given a job by a human rights organisation due to the expertise I had as an incarcerated girl and as a consultant on the jail’s committee for human rights.

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Most are not so lucky. Employers usually carry out checks on people applying for jobs. If they find a criminal record, they won’t employ her.

Banks view women with criminal records as a risk and won’t let them open accounts. Doors close everywhere.

Women continue to be denied access to health services outside of prison. We have a subsidised system in Colombia, but you have to be means-tested to access it.

When women leave prison, they often go to stay with a relative. So when they are interviewed by the health service, they’re staying in a place with a bed and furniture and are seen as being above the threshold for help.

For female migrants who don’t have the right documents, the situation is even worse.

Women who manage to get informal work, at neighbourhood restaurants for example, are often abused. We have heard of cases where women have been groped and raped.

Bosses know the women would struggle to find work elsewhere. The victims do not report their employers because they need the work.

Claudia Cardona’s work with Mujeres Libres has helped change laws on provision of period products in Colombian prisons. Photograph: Courtesy of Claudia Cardona

I came to know about all these issues in 2018 when I started holding meetings for former prisoners. This was the genesis of Mujeres Libres. Now we are a group of nine women, with 600 affiliated with us.

Mujeres Libres has been campaigning about menstruation in prison. In June 2022, law 2261, which “guarantees the free, opportune and sufficient delivery of articles of menstrual hygiene for women detained in prisons” was passed. Article two states women are entitled to 10 sanitary towels every month.

In 2019, the Colombian congress, along with civil society organisations including Mujeres Libres, started working on alternative sentencing for women that would take into account their needs and seek to reduce the impact of imprisonment on dependants. On International Women’s Day, a new law was approved by the president, so women who have been sentenced for minor crimes are able to substitute a prison sentence for unpaid community service.

Women who have been in prison can make an impact, if we’re allowed. People who make decisions about us know nothing about being in prison. They make laws without listening. There are people who think we are not capable, but what we lived through in prison makes us experts by experience.

  • As told to Sarah Johnson. Claudia Cardona is director of Mujeres Libres, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of female prisoners

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