According to the Direcção-Geral dos Serviços Prisionais, the national prison service, stealing to fund a drug addiction and making money quickly, through drug trafficking, are the main reasons why women end up in prison in Portugal. In December 2005, there were 603 women in Portuguese jails, of which 334 were guilty of drug trafficking.
Last year, 3,391 women were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, but most of the cases never made it to court. Apparently, most of the women were charged, but given suspended sentences and released.
Of the women arrested last year, 18 per cent of the 334 sentenced for drug trafficking, 60 were smugglers or ‘mules’, mainly from Latin America.
The PJ has said that the women convicted of drug trafficking are predominantly, “around 20-years-old, poorly educated and from the lower social classes”. It is believed that, in order to sustain their addictions, women turn to selling drugs or smuggling them across borders. Chief Inspector João Figueira of the PJ believes that, at times, women are more leniently sentenced “if they have children”.
The typical sentence for drug trafficking used to be eight years, but is currently closer to six. João Figueira is concerned that drug cartels may think of Portugal as a good place to smuggle drugs because of the leniency in the law, but he is calling for stricter sentences.