Organised by the Washington Office on Latin America with the support of Mexico, and the Church World Service, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Plataforma NNAPES and the Red Internacional de Mujeres Familiares de Personas Privadas de la Libertad
Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow, WOLA: Before going any further, I would just like to say on behalf of WOLA and IDPC. I would just like to take a moment to recognise the massive humanitarian and human rights crisis taking place in Ukraine as well as massive displacement. Homes, apartment buildings, hospitals and schools are being bombed. In cities where active military actions are taking place people don’t have access to basic needs like food, water and essential medicines. With regards to drugs, organisations that provide harm reduction and HIV prevention services are courageously trying to continue their work but face tremendous obstacles. WOLA and IDPC stand today in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. This war must end. Returning to the topic of our side event. In recent years, we’ve organised side events highlighting the disproportionate impact of drug related incarceration on women. This year, we want to focus on the disproportionate impact of drug related incarceration on children, on the children and families of people deprived of liberty. To my knowledge, this is the first CND site event focusing on this topic, and we hope it brings visibility to the issue, and to the terrific work being done by RIMUF and the NNAPES platform who are with us here today. I’m not going to say any more about the topic due to our time limitations today. The side event will begin with opening remarks by the Ambassador to the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the International Organisations in Vienna. And that will be followed by presentations on the lived experiences of family members of people in prison and proposals for alternative approaches. I will introduce each speaker before they talk, and you can put questions in the chat or use the Q&A function. Although I will warn you that we’ll just have a few minutes for questions at the end given the time limitations of these side events. So, our first presenter is Ambassador Luis Javier Campuzano Pina, who entered the Foreign Service in 1989. He was accredited to the Embassy of Mexico and Austria uno, which is the Permanent Mission of Mexico in New York and the Permanent Mission to the International Organisations in Geneva. From June 2006 to November 2009, he was deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission to the OAS in Washington DC. In September 2011, he was promoted to the rank of Ambassador. He served as the Ambassador of Mexico in Norway. Director General for the United Nations at the Mexican Foreign Ministry, and the Counsellor at the Vice Ministry of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. And since June 2020, he has served as the ambassador of Mexico and Austria and Permanent Representative to the International Organisations in Vienna, Ambassador The floor is yours.
Amb. Luis Javier Campuzano Piña, Permanent Mission of Mexico to the International Organizations in Vienna: Thank you very much. I would like to express my country’s gratitude for the organisers of this event. And it’s a good opportunity to be able to participate in this forum with members of civil society and people affected by these politics. And, like many things in life, my role as a politician, or policymaker is related to many different contradictions. Well, our roles are based in in human rights. But we see that there are many contradictions when it comes to actually implementing these rights. We need to hold our national governments accountable. When I was looking at the overall themes here, I was really moved by the different personal testimonies and stories here because these aren’t just national laws. But it also has to do with our own compassion and about the people who have to suffer injustice, and, and disproportionate effects under the law and the current policies that we have. The NNAPEs platform, and the Church World Service helped organise this event. And we’re really hoping to see awareness raised about the cruel reality of the impact on family members of people who are deprived of liberty, or who have been accused of crimes, especially women who are often over represented in prisons, often for drug related offences, and often have to be the carers and either be the ones supporting family members who are incarcerated. These situations can have very severe effects on human rights, both on the people who are deprived of their liberty and on their family members. In terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, these provisions are very relevant here. We see many injustices, for example, the imprisonment of people who are completely innocent, which has devastating impacts on their children. Second, we also see how people can be punished people who are completely innocent. And this also has a devastating impact on children and mothers. We need to recognise that there’s a combination here of objectivity and subjectivity. And there’s a lot of egotism as well on the part of policymakers. But we really need to recognise that these policies don’t only affect one person in a vacuum, they also affect the person people around them on their loved ones. It’s extremely important to emphasise the impact that this has on the struggle for social justice and rights. Many times, women are the ones who are left with the sole responsibility for caring for their families and caring for the loved ones in prison. Many times, human rights violations are very much linked to these situations, and the unfair circumstances under which people are imprisoned. We have to ask ourselves, if I were an imprisoned woman, what would I do if I had to be separated from my child but what I do during these times? When we look at the impact on women, and the rest of the members of their family, these are extremely important themes.
Coletta Youngers: Thank you very much Ambassador, much appreciate your sponsorship, the co-sponsorship of the Mexican Government and you’re taking time out of the very busy day at the CND to be with us here today. I have been reminded that I’m talking too fast for the interpreter. So I would just like to remind our speakers as well, but we need to talk slowly so that our interpreter can catch all our words. Our next speaker is Andrea Casamento. Her son was mistakenly incarcerated in 2007 in Argentina. Since she didn’t find an organisation or public office that could help her she created ACIFAD the Civil Association for Relatives of People in Prison. ACIFAD today is a community-based organisation in Buenos Aires led by and dedicated to the needs of women and children with incarcerated loved ones. Andrea is also a founding member of RIMUF a new network of seven organisations in Latin American and Spain led by women who are family members of people deprived of liberty. In 2021 she was selected as a member of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, it’s the first time that somebody from a directly affected community is a member of that subcommittee. Andrea’s work and life has been featured in the media, she has spoken at many conferences and seminars to share her experiences, including here in the United States. And she was selected to present at the TEDx Rio de la Plata event where she shared her story in front of 10,000 people. So, Andrea, our audience isn’t quite that big today. But I turn the floor over to you. And again, just remind you to speak slowly.
Andrea Casamento, RIMUF, ACIFAD and the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture, Argentina: Thank you very much. Thank you for WOLA, thank you for Coletta for all the support that you’ve given us, and for giving us the opportunity to really raise awareness on how imprisonment affects family members. In Argentina, there are about 100,000 people deprived of liberty. When it comes to imprisonment, we estimate that for every person who was detained, five people within their family are also impacted. And this impact falls disproportionately on women who are also caretakers and guardians and parents taking care of their children. Many people who are currently, they might be a grandmother, for example, they have to take care of other family members. And this is something that is not very nice. One of the issues that most worries us has to do with the way that family ties are completely destroyed with children. It’s very difficult for families, to be able to enter prisons to be able to visit family members to be able to maintain those familial relationships. Another thing that is extremely worrying is that there’s no work being done to support these women, these children and to address the impacts that this has on them. So as Coletta was telling us in her presentation we created and the Argentinian Civil Association for Relatives of Prisoners (ACIFAD). But we also have colleagues for example, Lucia in Mexico. There are many other countries, we realise. But maybe there’s different countries we have a different accent might be different. But it’s the exact same situation. It’s something that we’re all going through. It’s not just a systemic problem. It’s not a problem exclusive to Argentina, or Mexico, or Uruguay. It’s throughout the region. We see how imprisonment has a devastating impact on family or the family members who are accompanying and supporting people who are deprived of liberty. Here, I’m not talking just about subjective impact on the person who has deprived liberty. It also affects the economic status of the family, because many times person who is imprisoned is the one who was working to provide for them, they have to take a lot of time as well to go to the courthouse, there’s a lot of obstacles and barriers to accessing justice, and it’s quite a difficult topic. So I’d like to tell you a little bit about the right now we’re working with the NNAPEs Platform. And we say that, you know, we need to support our children in terms of addressing the impacts that they suffer. There’s two things here that are important to point out. And in Argentina and some other countries in the region there’s a law that’s being imposed for home arrest. The problem is that there aren’t programmes that help support those mothers and their children. So there are actually women here in Argentina who prefer to be imprisoned to be at home because if they were at home, there’s no one to bring them food. There’s no one to support them. They’re just they’re stuck in their homes, but they can’t even leave to take their children to school. We need to think of developing a programme to be able to support women in this situation. Another thing very important, just yesterday, we had a meeting. And one of the topics that came up was mental health of people who are in or exiting prisons. This is something that hasn’t been broached at all. And there’s many people as well, who need access to medications, but they don’t have a psychiatrist prescription, it’s really a topic or an issue that we need to have in mind. And when we’re talking about drug policy, it’s also true. I think that about 70% of people who are deprived of liberty, at least in Argentina, have some sort of drug dependency issues. And there is no opportunity at all to be able to work on these issues and help access treatment when they’re in these situations when they’re in prison. Many of these women are in prison because they have a drug dependency issue. And they were arrested and detained for possession simply for personal use. I think we need to start thinking of how we can support these women, how we can ask the government. So that public policy that we have outside of the prisons also reaches within prisons. Some of the strategies that we’ve thought of, for example, in the NNAPEs Platform, the RIMUF Network is to speak about these issues, broach these topics and also carry out analysis of what are the most pressing issues here, raise awareness, and also engage in advocacy so that we can push for the changes that need to be made. So, I think that’s all, I’m open to answering questions, if there’s any time for that. And thank you so much for giving me the space to speak to you.
Coletta Youngers: Thank you very much, Andrea, I just want to underscore two things that you said. One is what you were just talking about, with regards to people who have drug dependencies who end up in prison, and how we should be providing, or governments should be providing resources to fund harm reduction and treatment programmes before people go into prison. One of the organisations that we work with in Argentina that’s doing a very good job on these issues is Intercambios Asociación Civil Argentina, so just want to give a shout out to them. And the other thing you mentioned that I’ve found in my own work is that you know when, with the organisation that you have brought together, RIMUF for family members with people in prison, and the Plataforma NNAPEs, and then the other network that we work with, which is the Latin American Network of Women who have been Behind Bars. What we find is that the experiences of women’s incarceration, people’s incarceration, family members, is remarkably similar, it doesn’t matter what country you are from. And I have found this to be the case worldwide, because we’re also working with an international network of women who’ve been in prison. And it was striking to me that you know, women in Africa, women in Asia, women in Latin America, despite the tremendous differences, women’s experience of incarceration, is remarkably horrendous and remarkably similar. So we’ll turn now to our next speaker. And I would just like to remind everybody that you can put questions either in the chat or in the Q&A, we will have a little bit of time at the end for some questions. So our next speaker is Lucia Alvarado. Lucia is the sister of a person who was deprived of liberty for drug related issues in Mexico. From 2014 to 2016 she was part of the group that advocated for the adoption of the National Law of Penal Execution (LNEP), to recognise and include the rights of family members in the legislation. Since 2018, she has managed the Centre for Integral Attention of Relatives of Persons Deprived of Liberty (CAIFAM), which is part of the civil society organisation Documenta. CAIFAM aims to train and inform relatives about the mechanisms within the LNEP for the defence of rights of people in prison and serves as a space of resistance and solidarity among peers. CAIFAM is also part of the RIMUF network. Because of the very early hour in Mexico right now we have a video of Lucia’s presentation, but she is here with us to answer any questions that come up. So I turn to you to put the video on.
Lucia Alvarado, Centro de Atención Integral de Familiares con Personas Privadas de la Libertad (CAIFAM), Mexico: Hello I am Lucia Alvarado and I am the sister of a person who was deprived of liberty for 10 years for crimes related to drug policy in my country. In recent years, imprisonment has increased due to constitutional reform to increase the capital of crimes that merits automatic preventive detention or pretrial detention. Some of these are related to drug policy here in Mexico. This situation has favoured or led to a disproportionate increase of people in prison even in the midst of the pandemic. Because prosecutors in my country prefer to send people to prison rather than opting for alternative measures. In Mexico, there are currently 216,310 people deprived of liberty in the different municipal states and federal penitentiaries. Of this population, more than 40% of these people are in pretrial detention, without having been proven to have committed a crime or not. According to the National Mexican Institute of Statistics, almost 8% of people are in prison for drug related crime, and 50% of the women deprived of their liberty in the federal prisons in the country are related to drug related charges. It is worth noting that according to the statistic, the people who are in prison for these crimes are not the big drug kingpins, but rather people, mostly young people for simple possession of minor amounts of marijuana and cocaine. The impact of having a loved one in prison has a large effect on our rights in various aspects, both social and emotional. Both the person who is imprisoned and all the members of his or her family are affected. It negatively influences the integral development of children, further impoverishes families, and violates the right to justice. The situation completely disrupts our lives and after these moments, nothing will ever be the same. I’m going to put the Mexican situation in context to highlight the critical human rights movement we are facing in the face of mass incarceration. In 2008, the first letter of agreement was signed on an initiative through which the US Congress would support the Mexican government’s state against drug trafficking and organised crime, as well as to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, which is something that has yet to materialise. As part of this initiative, there is a corrections programme aimed at building maximum security federal prisons. These new federal centres have already been built in inaccessible areas due to their remoteness from urban centres. This has led to a wave of mass transfers to these new federal prisons, leading to a series of systematic violations of the human rights of prisoners and their families, because they are taken away from their emotional core, since being transferred makes it difficult to attend visits with the planning necessary. Because that going to visit also entails a series of expenses for transport that many times we are unable to cover. On the other hand, the greatest impact is the almost immediate, irremediable break in the emotional ties with our children. And the great psychological repercussions their children suffer because they think they have been abandoned, or that they do not want to be near them, and that the prisoner decided to leave with his or her own freewill. In state prisons, the expenses we have to cover are very high because we have to bring everything in order for our family member to survive, including food, drinkable water, medicine, clothes, blankets, money to pay for a place to sleep in a cell with massive sanitation and health problems. In addition to other costs, linked to the rampant corruption that occurs daily in the penitentiary centres. When we visit we are subjected to intrusive bodies searches. And we are criminalised and stigmatised for having a relationship with people deprived of liberty. The vast majority of us who accompany a loved one in prison are women. And every day, we face psychological violence in the courts, where we receive despotic treatment on the part of lawyers and judges, when we don’t understand the complicated legal language they use. And when we go to prisons to visit, were mistreated by administrative custody staff. It is necessary to combat corruption, impunity, self-government, and violence that prevails within prisons. It is also extremely urgent and important that we create public policies that contribute to mitigating the effects on the families of persons deprived of liberty, forming institutions that provide legal and psychosocial support, so as to not continue to be made invisible, and stigmatised as the collateral damage of a useless drug war, which has only left thousands of people missing, dead or in prison. For the past four years, I’ve been coordinating with CAIFAM, which is the Centre for Integral Attention to Families of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Mexico. It’s a group formed by women family members created at the end of 2018. And we came together with the intention of learning about our rights and those of our imprisoned family members, in order to make sure that their rights can be exercised. With this, we have managed to have an impact on the national law of penal enforcement and to become self-governate. Our meetings serve to solidify solidarity between us to make visible the impacts of incarceration on our lives, create political alliances, and influence public policies to ensure that prisons comply with human rights standards. Thank you very much.
Coletta Youngers: Thank you very much, Lucia, for that very good presentation. As we were just commenting, or as I was just commenting with regards to Andrea’s presentation, I was struck by what you were saying about the way in which family members are treated by the judiciary and in the prisons. And I think this is also a very universal problem, you find this across the region. And I’m also very glad that you brought up the role of the US government. You know, we also find the adoption of US style maximum security prisons, around the region. And there are many issues we can go into about that. But the one I just want to mention, because this is happening in Mexico, as is the case in other countries is often these prisons are built in places that are very far from where people live, as we have in the United States, the situation we have in the United States, where people are sent to prisons that may be 1000s of miles from their families in the case of big countries like the United States and Mexico, or hundreds of miles, I should say. And it makes it very, very hard to maintain those family links. And we all know, from the many studies that have been done, at least in the United States that maintaining family links is one of the most, and family relationships, is one of the most important factors in ensuring that when people are released from prison, that they are able to rebuild their lives and not turn, not end up back in prison. So thank you for that. Our final presentation is a video by two representatives of the Plataforma NNAPEs and I would also like to note that we have Lea Fernandez of the Plataforma here with us for any questions about the presentations you’re about to hear now. These presentations are by two adolescents who work with the Plataforma the first speaker will be Cruz Alexandra Jimenez Sierra, she is 13 years old and from the Dominican Republic. Her interests are drawing and cooking. She loves animals and as a little dog named Princessa. When she grows up, she would like to be a soldier to help others. Currently she’s a sophomore in high school. Her father is deprived of his liberty and she and other children are accompanied by the organisation Proyecto CAMINANTE from the Dominican Republic. At the time of his arrest, she was with her sister, also a minor, watching television and they were both there when her father was taken away. As you will hear from her the arrest had a great emotional impact on her and her sister. It’s been about six years since that time and her father is still incarcerated. And the second person you will hear from is Manuel Fleitas who is 16 years old and from Uruguay. He has three younger siblings. His mother was sentenced to four years in prison for bringing 50 grammes of marijuana into a men’s prison. I would note that marijuana is legal and in Uruguay. She is a single mother and had no criminal record until this point. With the support of the organisation Gurises Unidos, an alliance with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Penitentiary Issues and with the strategic litigation clinic of the University of the Republic, Manuel’s mother was granted house arrest. This was an unprecedented achievement in in the country of Uruguay and it will allow the children to stay with their mother. Manuel, together with other adolescents filed an Amicus brief the first of its kind before the Inter American Court of Human Rights in March 2020, highlighting the impact of the deprivation of liberty of their guardians and on children at an international level. So again, I remind you, you can put questions in chat and Q&A. And let’s start the video.
Cruz Alexandra Jiménez Sierra, 13 years old, NNAPEs, Proyecto CAMINANTE, Dominican Republic: My name is Cruz Alexandra Jimenez Sierra and I am 13 years old. I am from the Dominican Republic. I’m a representative of children and adolescents who have a family member who is deprived of liberty. When they took my father, they took my mother and my sister as well. And it made life very difficult for the other two children, the younger ones. Because we didn’t have any information about what had happened with our father, with our mother and our sister. But they took us to many different areas to be able to distract us a bit and to forget those horrible sites that we saw. I live in Boca Chica and in order to go and enter into Victoria, which is the name of the prison, it’s very far away from us. We have to get up extremely early, to be able to get there early. It’s very far away from my house to get to the prison. We have to waste about $100 in order to be able to go there. And there, people are lined up in a very large queue to be able to enter the prison and the queue goes even further. But once we get inside, in the area inside, we have to we have to pay them so that there’s no issues with anything with food. Because they look through everything and they really mess up and disorganise everything that you bring with you. When you get in, you have to pay so that they don’t touch the minors when they’re when they’re frisking us, because sometimes they will touch you in your private areas, and it’s not comfortable. It’s something that has happened to me before. They also give us very little time to be able to be with our family members. We got very little time and also the environment that we’re in is not so safe because it’s in the middle of the of the recreational area and there’s many different gangs there. They have revolvers, they have pistols, they have weapons to assault each other with and they will assault the guards as well.
I’d like them to change the schedule, so that they gave a little bit more time for visitors. I’d also like for them to provide transport so that we can go straight to Victoria and not have to spend so much money in order to get there. I’d also like for there to be a more comfortable and safe environment. Because when we go out into the outside areas, like I said before, there’s many problems there. And in many prisons, I’d like for them to put a more private area where we can visit our family members, a private area and more comfortable, where children and family can feel more comfortable inside. They also need to improve the policies within prisons so that they can search us without touching us inappropriately, either adults or minors. I also would like them to stop arresting almost nearly every family member that is there, because that doesn’t mean if one person commits a mistake, or makes a mistake, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be affected by it when it wasn’t their fault. And they need to take our interests into account. And also the impact that is had on us outside of prisons, there are people who insult us who bully us, even our teachers as well, they will insult us, they’ll say horrible things to us and they don’t treat us as they should. My mother has to work it’s like she’s my mother and my father, she suffered a lot due to the situation. I’d like them to change the situation for children who have parents who are deprived of liberty, so that we can feel safer expressing our needs. And so that there’s more awareness of what’s going on in our different countries. I’m Cruz Alexandra Jimenez Sierra, and thank you for giving me the space to speak to you.
Manuel Fleitas, 16 years old, NNAPEs, Gurises Unidos, Uruguay: Hello, good afternoon. My name is Manuel Fleitas. I’m 16 years old and I live in Uruguay. I’m part of Gurises Unidos and the NNAPEs platform. The situation started when my mother tried to enter prison and they caught her. The situation affects me emotionally because I do not know what’s going to happen to my family or what’s going to happen to me. After a very long journey in the criminal courts where I was trying to protect my rights and those of my siblings even though they hadn’t asked us anything about our interest in the situation. Thanks to the support of Gurises Unidos we reached the settlement of being able to give my mother four years of house arrest. This way we were able to avoid having my family be separated and therefore avoid lasting damage both in the present and the future. The process was very long, complicated, and random. It was full of uncertainty because we didn’t know what was going to happen. I felt very sad, because it was so difficult everything we were going through. And also fear, because I didn’t know whether things were going to get more difficult for us. And there are some rights that were violated throughout this process, like the right to live in a family unit. And there were many different opportunities to violate this, right, because there wasn’t anyone in my family who could stay with us. This separation wasn’t only possible in terms of my mother, but it was also something that affected my siblings. And we didn’t know where we were going to end up. We didn’t even know whether we were going to be able to see each other. Furthermore, my interests and those of my siblings, in terms of wanting to live together and not wanting to be separated from our mother, this right was also violated.
So I would like us through this work, I would like to reach different people to raise awareness so that they can empathise with the minors, the children who are affected throughout these processes. I appreciate having the opportunity to have the space to share my story. And I hope that my story reaches the ears of other people so that we can secure a better future for children and adolescents from different parts of the world who have similar stories.
Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow, WOLA:
It’s so important to hear directly from these kids. And I just applaud their bravery in speaking out and becoming activists at such a young age, it’s so impressive. I also want to underscore the importance of Manuel’s mother’s case. I remember an Uruguayan judge in a forum we hosted some years ago now saying that although the law allowed for house arrest, there were no mechanisms in place to actually implement it. This is the first case as I said before, this is a big step forward, you know because it will allow him to stay you know with his mother for, he and his siblings. I think at the same time it’s very important to recognise that house arrest can also be as harsh as prison if people are not given the flexibility to work and carry out their responsibilities as parents. We put out a report on this a couple of years ago with numerous other organisations in the region and CELS in Argentina also put out a very good report about the difficulties that women have in house arrest, if they can’t work, in order to be able to maintain themselves, the problems that creates within the households because of course, house arrest means that everybody in the household is at some level, under the criminal legal system. And, and if they can’t perform their parental responsibilities, can’t work and carry out their responsibilities as parents. So I think this points to the need for alternatives to incarceration. But I think we also need to think, beyond house arrest and how we can ensure that women and children are able to stay together.
Questions from participants:
- Karina: What else can we doto give more visibility to this issue within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime more broadly?
- Unknown: What are the obstacles that people face when they are released from prison and return home?
- Unknown: Do you consider the regional and international mechanisms such as the Inter American Commission of Human Rights are a good way to demand accountability for violations of the rights of family members of people in prison.
Responses from panellists:
Ambassador Luis Javier Campuzano Pina: Thank you Coletta. Thank you to all of the people who spoke today. And as we’ve mentioned, it’s a huge honour to be able to hear direct testimonies, and it’s very courageous on the part of these people for sharing their stories and what they’ve gone through. In terms of this, to respond to your question, one important point is to strengthen our observance of the Bangkok rules. Another important point is strengthening of the gender sensitive approaches in our work. And in accordance with the UNODC recommendations that UN Office on Drugs and Crime and within programmes and the projects that are linked to this subject. We need to strengthen them across the board, raise awareness about these situations, and also raise awareness about alternative measures to imprisonment. It’s important to work together with civil society organisations. For example, in Mexico, we have one that also helps to reintegrate women into society through work, because they face a lot of discrimination when they get out of prisons, and it can be very difficult for them to secure employment. So it’s very important to provide them that support. Another very important point that is being considered in various spheres, is to exchange imprisonment for a different alternative measurements, imprisonment should not be the go to response, especially when we are talking about people who are first offenders or were people who have small amounts of narcotic drugs, or people who are working as drug mules as they’re called. We need to have much more benign alternative measures that also take into account these issues of society at large and also maintaining the integrity of the family units.
Andrea Casamento: Prisons are very distant. They basically, they very much disable people, they impede people from many different things. After someone has been in prison for a long time without being able to make decisions, being subjected to many different regulations, it’s difficult for the person to re-enter society. And it’s also very difficult for their family who has learned how to live in a certain way and under a certain context. And there aren’t any programmes, or mechanisms that help support people through this process. I’m going to give you an example. My husband was incarcerated for 16 years. And two years ago, he came home. One of the things that we did, we would leave all the lights on. When I asked why they did that he said, well, in prison, we don’t pay for the electricity bill. So that’s an example. We have to learn how to live. Because when someone who has been in prison for a long time, and then all of a sudden they’re living again with their wife, with their children who goes to school, they have to learn everything. And there is absolutely no one who helps us throughout that process of learning to live in society again. And it’s very, very difficult. Because in addition, we sometimes feel people looking at us. He will say, “Can people tell that I was a prisoner that I was imprisoned?” We always have that kind of stigmatising other, stigmatising eyes on us. It’s also very difficult to secure employment. When you have when you have a criminal record, there’s many things that you’re limited from being able to do. And in terms of the Inter American Court of Human Rights, this question that was asked. I’m a member of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture of the UN, and a little over a year ago, I joined. One of the topics that the experts speak about, they say “Have you spoken with the members of the family?” And then they’ll say no, no, we didn’t think to do that. But you have to speak with the children. You have to ask them how they’re doing. How are they coping with the situation? And then and then they people say no, no, we hadn’t we hadn’t even thought of that. So there’s really not enough awareness about the collateral damage that is done by incarceration, the collateral damage on family members. And when the children went before the Inter American Courts, all of these kinds of initiatives that we are carrying out our very important. Our organisation was one of the first 14 years ago, RIMUF is new, it’s only about two years old. So, we need to become the protagonist of our own stories. We have to strengthen ourselves, we have to make sure that our voices are heard, and that our participation is counted with when we’re making recommendations on this topic.
Lucía Alvarado: I wanted to add, from my perspective, and also the very specific situation that we had with my brother when he came out of prison, of how prisons are managed. All of the time, my family member was in prison for 10 years, and there was never any plan of activities within the prisons. There weren’t any activities or programmes so that people had skills that they needed to be able to reintegrate successfully into society, to be able to secure employment. And this was a huge problem for my brother, who was who was spending 10 years drawing Disney cartoons and had he didn’t have any of the skills to be able to reintegrate into society and to be able to find a job. This was a huge problem that affected his entire prison sentence. Also, in terms of other rights, that are violated within prisons. in my country, there’s only one document that serves as your ID documents. When you come out of the prisons, without this identity document, it’s impossible to do all of the things that you need to do. For example, you can’t open a bank account, you can’t rent an apartment. And it makes life that much more difficult. And this isn’t something that you get when people are released from prison, they don’t even get this identity document. It’s a document that they also ask when you’re looking to be hired for a job. They’ll look at the criminal record especially. My brother really had trouble finding a job after he was released. He had a job that was waiting for him, and so he got lucky, because he was able to re-join the workforce. But there are many people who don’t have a job waiting for them and that would be very difficult for them, and they don’t have any support and their rights are infringed upon within the systems. In terms of the Inter American Court of Human Rights, in Mexico we know that there’s the Inter American Court Resolution, in which they’re starting to examine the impact of transferring prisoners to areas that are more isolated and looking at into the impact that this has on women and children and family members. And I think that this is very important, so that we can really make visible the stories of family members who are impacted and including children.
Leah Fernandez: Hello, everyone, thank you very much for the space to speak, for giving the space to children and adolescents. For us, we thought it would be better to film them, to record them because just like us, you know, we get quite nervous when they’re presenting live. So we wanted to make sure that they felt more comfortable. I just wanted to quickly add in terms of what Andrea was saying before in terms of house arrest. And I think it’s important to reflect on this because this is something that we’re going through right now with Manuel’s situation with his mother. And really, I would like to thank the solicitor who has been helping us very much in securing these rights for his family, his mother. And we should not idealise or romanticise house arrest as the final solution, a final measure that will work for situations like the one that Manuel’s was mother is in. We’re currently working on advocacy to be able to ensure the basic necessary conditions, so that this woman and her four children could be kept together and have access to everything they need, for example, food, because the mother is not able to leave her house, also to be able to access healthcare, to be able to access education, take children to schools. All of these needs require policies, they require norms that really safeguard and guarantee the rights of these children and their mothers who are under house arrest as an alternative measure to incarceration. So I just want to stress that we need to have more measures, we need to have more initiatives to be able to ensure that this alternative measure is actually feasible. Because sadly, many times mothers actually prefer to be in prison, because at least they’re they have their basic needs met for sure. So once again, thank you so much for giving me this space.
Coletta Youngers: Thank you very much Leah. I would just like to close by saying thank you to all of our participants, there are many side events happening right now, as particularly related to Latin America. We will be sharing recordings of this event in English and Spanish for those who haven’t been able to see it so you can share it with your colleagues, we’ll circulate it next week, I would particularly like to thank all of our speakers who have taken the time to be with us today. This was an incredibly informative event, and I think got the right mix of analysis and hearing the personal side the human face of this issue. As I mentioned at the beginning, we are very committed to continuing to bring attention to the issue of the disproportionate impact of drug related incarceration on family members of people in prison. We will be continuing to work with RIMUF with the Plataforma NNAPEs and with the Latin American Network of Women who’ve been in Prison and hope that this will be the first of other forums where we can bring attention to the issue. So thank you all very much. And for those of you returning to the plenary of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, looks like we have many hours ahead. Get some more coffee. Thank you all very much. Bye bye.