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  • An inmate walks through a prison courtyard at a complex of ten prisons in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, Aug. 28, 2015.

    An inmate walks through a prison courtyard at a complex of ten prisons in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, Aug. 28, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 November 2015

Despite increasing talk of reform, the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes has rapidly grown in recent years.

In a shocking report that found one in five Latin American prisoners are drug offenders, it was also revealed that the number of drug offenders in Mexico’s federal prisons grew 1,200 percent between 2006 and 2014.

The report, released Tuesday by the Collective of Drug and Law Studies, will be presented before Mexico’s lower house of Congress.

The majority of Mexicans imprisoned for so-called “crimes against health” committed marijuana-related offenses, researchers found.

The report comes as many countries, including the United States, are beginning to move away from incarceration as a means of addressing drug use and addiction.

Several U.S. states have recently legalized marijuana, as has the South American nation of Uruguay, while Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering whether laws against the possession and cultivation of marijuana violate the nation’s constitution.

According to Mexican lawmaker Vidal Llerenas, a member of the center-left National Regeneration Movement, the data in Tuesday’s report shows the “social cost implicit in the use of criminal law and incarceration to address the drug problem.”

It’s not only Mexico that’s imprisoning more people for drugs, however.

“In the majority of countries in Latin America we studied, one out of every five people in prison was there for drug crimes,” said researcher Alejandro Corda. “In addition, the population incarcerated for drugs in these various countries has increased faster than the general prison population.”

In Colombia, the percentage of people imprisoned for drug offenses has increased by nearly 400 percent since 2000. In Brazil, the population of drug offenders in prison grew 320 percent between 2005 and 2012.

The report also found that the war on drugs is what is largely responsible for putting women behind bars. In Peru, more than 60 percent of incarcerated women are drug offenders. In Argentina the number is 65 percent — while in Costa Rica no less than three-fourths of women in prison are there because they broke a drug law.

RELATED: Mexican political analyst Denise Dresser argues the war on drugs can ruin lives, but never be won.

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