Guatemala’s female prison population has more than doubled in the last eight years according to official statistics, highlighting the increased role women are playing in organized criminal activity in this Central American nation.
There are now 1,315 women in Guatemala’s jails, compared to just 595 female prisoners in January 2005, according to data from the Sistema Penitenciario (SP), reports El Periodico – an increase of 121 per cent. The number of women in jail has seen sharp increases in recent years, rising 30 percent from 2010 to 2011, and 26.8 percent from 2012 to 2013.
According to the SP spokesman, the biggest increase in female crime participation has been in extortion, kidnapping and theft. Women are also playing more important roles in criminal hierarchies acting as assassins and thieves, according to Veronica Godoy, the director of an alliance of non-governmental organizations that monitors public security. However, they rarely hold leadership positions.
For many women, according to Godoy, organized crime can become a way of life when facing a lack of economic opportunities. Family or romantic ties, often manipulated by gang members for the purposes of recruitment, also lead to increased female participation.
For the gangs, women, as well as children, provide a low cost labor source that traditionally attracts less attention from police and judicial authorities. A report last year found women were increasingly being used in Guatemalan extortion gangs for recruitment and intelligence gathering. Guatemala’s anti-extortion force estimates that 80 percent of the suspects detained for extortion charges are now women.
The trend is regional. In Mexico, the number of women working in the drug trade is estimated to have grown by 400 percent between 2007 and 2010. It has been suggested that criminal organizations in the region are relying on family ties to boost their numbers after members are jailed or killed in the violence that has spread throughout the isthmus.