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Colombia to free 5,000 breadwinner female prisoners

Some 5,000 female prisoners in Colombia who are either impoverished or the heads of single parent households will be freed in exchange for community service, the government has said.

The decision on Friday, under a new law passed by leftist President Gustavo Petro on International Women’s Day, would benefit inmates convicted of minor crimes with prison sentences of no more than eight years, Justice Minister Nestor Osuna said.

Instead of prison time, they will serve the rest of their sentences by doing public service, he told Blu Radio.

Official estimates are that about 5,000 of the country’s 17,000 female prisoners could qualify.

“If they remain imprisoned and the children (remain) without their mother, those children grow up without affection and many, in the future, become criminals,” Petro said.

“That is the logic of violence and exclusion.”

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Preventive policies

The women will be required to work in educational activities, environment restoration, public transport or other civil sectors.

They will work, unpaid, between five and 20 hours per week.

“For every five hours worked, they will redeem a week of imprisonment,” said Osuna.

The rest of the time, the women will be allowed to earn money for themselves.

The proposal had been before Congress since 2021, rejected by the then-ruling right-wing party and president Ivan Duque.

Petro, who came to power last August, is an advocate of preventive policies rather than punitive ones as the country’s prisons are massively overpopulated.

“This is a first step towards a change in prison policy, towards a new way of crime prevention, towards a new understanding of the meaning of punishment,” said Osuna.

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