The number of women incarcerated for federal crimes in Mexico has grown by 400 percent since 2007, pushing the total female prison population past 10,000, reports the New York Times. The rise can partly be attributed to the long reach of drug cartels, which have expanded into organized crime, and drawn in nearly everyone they can, including women. Some act as lookouts; others work as drug mules, killers, or “la gancha” (the hook), using their beauty to attract male kidnapping victims. Sandra Ávila Beltrán became a major cartel leader before her arrest in 2007 for trafficking and money laundering.
The Times says “Mexico's justice system is so opaque, incompetent and corrupt, it is nearly impossible to know which prisoners deserve their punishment.” Still, women, may unwittingly be used by men they love. Several women at one prison said they only realized after their arrests that the cars they were caught driving had been packed full of drugs by boyfriends or brothers. Eunice Ramírez, 19, was arrested last November for luring men into places where they could be kidnapped. U.S. border patrol agents say that they have been catching more attractive teenagers in short skirts with drugs taped to their inner thighs.