San José, Costa Rica—When Sandra was arrested for smuggling drugs into a men’s prison in 2015, she accepted it as part of the familiar cycle of her life. She’d been in and out of detention since she was 14, when she moved on to the streets, fleeing abuse at home.
But a lot has changed in the penal system since Sandra, whose last name has been omitted for privacy, first arrived at Costa Rica’s only women’s prison in the 1990s. The institution changed names, the soccer field crumbled into a river during a rough rainy season, and the prison population exploded, growing by upwards of 50 percent nationwide between 2006 and 2012.
Sandra has been in and out of juvenile detention and prison since she was 14