Major Study on Drugs Laws and Prisons in Latin America to be Released

Conference to be held in Buenos Aires
29 November 2010
Press release

An unprecedented one-year comparative study of the drug laws and prison systems in eight Latin American countries - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay - will be released on December 9, 2010, by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America is the first major study to explore the way drug laws have contributed to prison overcrowding, analyze who is imprisoned on drug charges, and evaluate the impact of incarceration on people's lives, their families and their communities. Based on the available data, each country-study presents and analyzes statistics on the situation in the prisons, including levels of over-crowding; the percentage of prisoners behind bars on drug charges; the percentage of those who are consumers, low-level offenders or bigger traffickers; and the level of involvement in the drug trade of those in jail.

The findings of this study are disturbing: Latin American countries are facing an unprecedented prison crisis fueled in part by drug laws that target low-level offenders, including consumers in possession of small amounts of drugs.  Even in countries that have launched major campaigns against drug trafficking - such as Colombia and Mexico - the percentage of major traffickers behind bars appears to be minuscule.  In the past few decades and throughout the region, drug laws have had a devastating effect on people who come from the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society, and have failed to achieve any meaningful success in curbing the illicit drug trade.  This study sounds an alarm bell for immediate debate and action to reform drug laws to make them more effective and humane.

Systems Overload will be launched next Thursday, December 9, 2010, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm during a conference with high-level policy analysts and the study's country-researchers at the Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Facultad de Derecho, Aula Magna; Larrea 1079 esq. Ave. Santa Fe).


Roberto Saba
Dean of the Law School at the University of Palermo

Graciela Touzé
President of Intercambios Asociación Civil

John Walsh
Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)


Main Presentation
Conclusions of the Study
The Impact of Drug Laws on Latin American Prisons and Society at Large
Pien Metaal
Drug Law Reform Project Coordinator at TNI

Country-Study Presentations
Raúl Alejandro Corda
Researcher, Intercambios Asociación Civil

Luciana Boiteux
Law Professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Diana Guzmán
Researcher at the Colombia-based DeJuSticia

Ricardo Soberón
Director of the Peru-based Centro de Investigación Drogas y Derechos Humanos

Giorgina Garibotto

Recommendations of the Study
Coletta Youngers
Senior Fellow at WOLA

Horacio R. Cattani
Judge of the Federal Court of Appeals for Criminal and Correctional Matters of the Federal Capital Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology
(Palermo University - Buenos Aires University - National University of Lomas de Zamora)


A series of 5-minute video profiles of people who have spent years in prison enduring harsh sentences that are disproportionate to the crimes they committed will be made available to press for use and embedding.  The video interviews were conducted in conjunction with the study.

Website and Twitter:
You can also follow the conference on Twitter at druglawreform and get more information on our website at

To attend the conference or for more information, contact:
Kristel Mucino, Communications Coordinator, TNI/WOLA Drug Law Reform Project:; +617-584-1713

The TNI/WOLA Drug Law Reform Project promotes more effective and humane drug policies through dialogue and up-to-date analysis of developments in Latin America

Media Advisory
November 29, 2010