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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 September, 2003, 23:56 GMT 00:56 UK
Jamaica's women drug mules fill UK jails
Burned-out car in Kingston
The women are desperate to escape Jamaica's poverty
The problem of women being used as drug couriers between the Caribbean and Britain has become so serious that more than half of all foreign women in UK prisons are Jamaican drug mules.

The penalties for drug smuggling are harsh - with average sentences between five and eight years for a first offence.

But for many of the women, the prospect of the financial reward for a successful trip makes facing the risk worth it.

"I was terrified, but I tried to hold my head up," said Simone, an inmate at Downsview prison in Southern England who is serving four-and-a-half years for attempting to smuggle cocaine into Britain.

"It was just like going to an interview - you tell yourself, well, I don't know if they'll take me because my shoes don't look good or my hair doesn't look good - but I know I can do the job so I'm going.'

"You're trying to be as brave as you can, but inside you're dying," she told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

Financial gain

Simone was arrested because of the vigilance of UK airport security staff.

"I went through, everything was fine. But then there was somebody else - because they always have a second opinion - and that's how I got caught."

Street children in Kingston
The children are all over the streets and become street children because there's no-one there to care for them
Olga Heaven, Hibiscus
She was found to have 650 grams of cocaine in her stomach in 60 small packages.

Simone admitted she knew what she was carrying and had not been tricked into smuggling, but said she had done it to ease the financial strain on her family.

"I had been managing my own shop, but then I met some financial problems," she said.

"It's just like somebody approaching you and saying: 'Do you want to go on a vacation - and not only do you get to go on a vacation, you will get paid?'

"So you just go with the flow."

Simone added that she had been aware before making her flight of what may happen to her if she was caught, but it had seemed worth the risk.

"You could face the fact of being in prison - but then again, having four kids, working day and night, you're a mother on your own, you haven't got any father," she said.

"Basically you just need a change - not only for yourself but for your kids."

But she said the distance meant that she barely spoke to her children at all now.

"I call them once every three months. It's not easy, but I do try. Calling from here to Jamaica - you buy a phone card and you say 'hello', and then the credit is gone.

"You want to be there because they're small - when they're crying you want to be there, they get a scar you want to know.

"After being away from them for four years, it's really terrible."


Olga Heaven, director of Hibiscus, the female prisoners welfare project that advocates the rights of foreign nationals in UK prisons, told Everywoman that Simone's case was typical.

She said that the need for money, coupled with coercion, made drug smuggling very attractive.

Cocaine growers in Colombia
Jamaica is the key stop-off point for Colombian cocaine
"In some cases the women are not even offered money, they are just offered a trip to the UK," she said.

"The bottom line is desperation poverty."

Ms Heaven added that the large number of Jamaicans in UK prisons was down to the island being used as a stop-off point from Colombia.

"We had a similar situation with Nigeria in the early 90s when we had several hundred Nigerian women in prison for importing heroin.

"At the moment Jamaica is a shipment point for Colombia to export cocaine into Europe, so there's a lot of cocaine on the island.

"The island is flooded with it."

Ms Heaven said that women were being targeted as mules by drug barons because they acted as decoys.

"If you look at the amount of drugs the women are carrying, someone who is carrying 200 grams of cocaine is not a big investment if you have to pay for the flight and the accommodation for them to stay here," she pointed out.

"So the people who are funding these women to bring these small amounts of drugs obviously have got professional carriers who are carrying a larger proportion worth more money.

"They're told by the people who organise them that they are going to get away with it - they literally guarantee them this, so it's easy for them to make a decision."

UK crackdown

Ms Heaven said that the long sentences given to Jamaican women were having a serious knock-on effect on families back home.

"The majority of these women that we work with in prison were the main carers - for both the mothers and grandmothers, and the junior members - they were the main providers for the household," she stated.

Hibiscus believe the women are being used as decoys for much bigger drug imports
"Therefore once they are taken out of that, the situation is that the elderly mothers end up with extended families, the children are all over the streets and become street children because there's no-one there to care for them."

The UK Government cracked down when it was discovered that more than 10% of travellers from Jamaica were drug carriers.

But Ms Heaven insisted that the tough sentences given out were "absolutely not" not a deterrent.

"Investing into the communities and the ghettos where these women are coming from would act as a better deterrent for them - give the women choices.

"But giving them long sentences is not a deterrent - if it was a deterrent we wouldn't have this large proportion of Jamaica women in prison."

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10 Aug 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Jamaican link to UK crime
16 Jan 03  |  UK News

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