President signs law benefiting female drug smugglers

President Laura Chinchilla signed into law Tuesday a measure that reduces prison terms for female drug smugglers if they are disadvantaged.

The measure only covers women who are caught bringing drugs into prisons. The penalty for that crime has been a prison term of from eight to 20 years. But the new law reduces the term to from three to eight years under certain conditions.

To merit the lower sentence the woman must be poor or the head of a household. She also must have minor children at home or a dependent senior or someone with a disability. Or she could be a senior herself.

The president signed the measure in front of some 200 female inmates at the  Buen Pastor prison in Desamparados. Many are there because of drug crimes.

A judge would also have options such as confining the offender to home detention or to some other type of restricted term outside of prison.

Ms. Chinchilla said that she hoped that the action would generate discussion not only in Costa Rica but also in other countries about the problem of women involved in drug trafficking.

The theory underlying the law is that the women who smuggle drugs into prisons are doing so at the behest of their husband or imprisoned partner and that they basically are forced to do it. That was the argument of proponents in the legislature.

The president also announced pardons to three women inmates in recognition of the  Día de la Madre, which is Thursday.

The women are  Olga Virginia Gómez,  Marta Isabel Chávez Benavides and  Virginia Quesada Aguilar. They all have been jailed on drug charges.
The pardons are issued by the president’s cabinet, the Consejo de Gobierno after research by criminologists and social workers.

This is a traditional action which also takes place at Christmas. Some women who have been pardoned end up being arrested again.

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