The Vance Center Convenes Global Workshop on Women in Prison

July 2018

The Vance Center’s global workshop “Women in prison: evidence, advocacy and reform” will convene in Bogota, Colombia, in early September 2018. It will bring together 45 women prisoners’ rights advocates from the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe to share information about conditions of women’s imprisonment in their respective countries and regions and build capacity for improved and collaborative monitoring, reporting, and advocacy regarding such conditions.

Workshop participants will include academics, grassroots advocates, and international experts on women’s rights and women’s imprisonment, including formerly incarcerated women. The group is intentionally diverse, as the Vance Center believes that the variety of actors will add to the richness of the dialogue and learning at the conference. The workshop will explore themes such as the growing trend of women’s imprisonment around the world, the international legal framework regarding women’s imprisonment, improving conditions for women in prison, research methods on women’s incarceration, and strategies for effecting change.

Dr. Kathy Boudin, Co-Director and co-Founder of the Center for Justice at Columbia University will deliver a keynote address. A formerly incarcerated woman, Dr. Boudin focuses her work on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, and the development of strategies to transform the current criminal justice system and deal with the day-to-day damage that the system has caused. New York City Bar Association President, Roger Maldonado, will welcome participants on behalf of the City Bar and the Vance Center.

The workshop commences a three-year grant-funded project that the Vance Center is implementing with Penal Reform International. The project seeks to promote global collaboration on improving conditions of women’s imprisonment through effective application of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, known as the “Bangkok Rules.” The workshop will launch a pilot project in which the Vance Center will partner with one of the organizations at the workshop to conduct research and advocacy on women’s incarceration in the organization’s home country and region. This pilot project will serve as a model and collaborative learning process for the workshop attendees, who will then be able to implement similar projects in their own countries.

The project fills a critical gap in the global movement on women prisoners’ rights. While preliminary research reveals similar trends in the conditions, causes, and consequences of women’s imprisonment across the world, international organizations and local advocates continue to work in silos. As a result, they rarely share best practices and lessons learned across borders. The project seeks to foster a global movement where women prisoners’ rights advocates learn from and work with each other to improve conditions for women prisoners worldwide.

This project builds on the Vance Center’s prior work on women prisoners’ rights. The Human Rights and Access to Justice Program for two years has collaborated with Cornell Law School on a study of the causes and consequences of women’s imprisonment at the Fort Augusta women’s prison in Jamaica. The study focuses on the characteristics of women prisoners and the consequences to them and their families from incarceration, and seeks to recommend reforms based on the Bangkok Rules. The Vance Center also has conducted research on the causes and consequences of women’s imprisonment in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, and Colombia, also leading to recommendations for improvement in light of the Bangkok Rules.