Survivors of Abuse and Incarceration

The overwhelming majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence. Three-quarters have histories of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner during adulthood, and 82% suffered serious physical or sexual abuse as children. But whereas efforts to recognize and address domestic violence in the community have made some progress, public support too often stops when survivors defend themselves or their children from an abuser’s violence.

Too often, the system responds to such women solely as perpetrators – not survivors – of violence, sending them to prison for long periods of time with little chance for parole. In addition, because incarceration further destabilizes already marginalized communities, it ultimately perpetuates the conditions in which violence against women thrives.

The large numbers of survivors in prison represents a failure of both the criminal justice and social service systems. Some women are in prison for defending themselves against an abuser. Others are incarcerated because they engaged in criminal activity to survive or because they took action at the behest of an abuser out of fear and threat of harm. Inadequate community or financial supports and harsh anti-immigrant policies may make it especially difficult for low-income and immigrant women to escape abusive relationships.

Prisons are a cruel environment for survivors: most prisons have few programs to address needs related to abuse and trauma and services to aid in rebuilding relationships with children and families are inadequate. Women often experience poor treatment – sometimes physical and sexual abuse – from correction officers and shackling policies can result in intense distress and trigger flashbacks.

Because domestic violence plays a significant role in women’s pathway to prison, it should be taken into account and addressed at all stages of the criminal justice process. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, judges have limited ability to take the impact of domestic violence into account when making sentencing decisions. As a result, many survivors end up serving years – sometimes decades – behind prison walls for acting to protect themselves.

Survivors in the system pose virtually no threat to public safety, and when appropriate should be diverted to alternative-to-incarceration programs in the community—programs that are more effective in helping women recover from abuse and rebuild their lives and families.

Likewise, all criminal justice professionals should be trained to recognize and address the needs of domestic violence survivors, and prison programs and services should be realigned to humanely and sensitively account for women’s histories of trauma and abuse.

Finally, the public at large must recognize survivors caught up in the criminal justice system as equally deserving of support, protection and justice as survivors in the community.

For more information, or to get involved, visit the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act page.




News | December 19, 2014

CA Testifies Before NYC Correction Board to Oppose New Rule Establishing Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) Units

In testimony presented at a public hearing on proposed rule making by the NYC Board of Correction (BOC), the CA strongly expressed its opposition to the establishment of Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) units in its jails. The CA also called for an end to solitary confinement for everyone incarcerated in NYC and New York State jails and prisons, responding to recent reports that NYC will end such treatment for 16- and 17-year olds only.Read More

News | December 5, 2014

CA Responds to Grand Juries’ Failure to Indict Officers in Garner and Brown Killings

The outrage expressed following the recent refusals of grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island to indict the cops who murdered Michael Brown and Eric Garner is not surprising. The fact that no indictments were issued is similarly not surprising. The grand jury results signal, once again, the undeniable flaws in the so-called criminal justice system and the racism that flows throughout it. It is this same racism that created an actual debate about the unconstitutional stop and frisk practices of the NYPD.Read More

News | April 29, 2013

Coalition for Women Prisoners 2013 Advocacy Day


Join us on June 5 as we advocate for the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act and an end to the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women. Read More

News | April 26, 2013

Moving one step closer to the DVSJA

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act now has 33 co-sponsors in the NYS Assembly and 23 co-sponsors in the NYS Senate.Read More


News | April 25, 2013

One in three girls

Tamar, on right, giving a presentation about the CA's campaign to pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.  To Tamar’s left is Neil Irvin, Executive Director of Men Can Stop Rape, a powerful organization working to mobilize men to end violence against women and one of the many organizations supporting the DV Survivors Justice Act.

Women in Prison Project Director Tamar Kraft-Stolar had the honor of participating in the pilot cohort of the NoVo Foundation’s Move to End Violence Initiative to strengthen the U.S. movement to end violence against girls and women. Read More

News | April 10, 2013

Support for the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act continues to grow

Support for the DVSJA continues to grow as the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims and the American Association of University Women - NYS sign on in support. Read More

News | March 14, 2013

Sentencing for Convicted DV Survivors: Public Opinion

Public opinion across the state favors judicial discretion for defendants that are survivors of domestic violence. Read More

News | October 30, 2012

Honored for Domestic Violence Survivor Advocacy

The Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project was honored this fall by STEPS to End Family Violence for their advocacy efforts on behalf of women, children, and families who have been impacted by incarceration and domestic violence.Read More

News | June 6, 2011

New report finds clear link between domestic violence and women’s incarceration

From Protection to Punishment

A new report from the Correctional Association finds that domestic violence and women’s incarceration are inextricably linked. Nine of ten women in New York’s prisons report being survivors of abuse 75% have endured severe intimate partner violence during adulthood. 93% of women incarcerated in NY for killing an intimate partner were abused by an intimate partner in the past.Read More

News | February 6, 2009

“Strength of a Woman” Documentary Premieres

Coalition for Women Prisoners members at event

Strength of a Woman is a unique and powerful advocacy tool advocates can use to educate policymakers and the public about the impact the criminal justice system can have on women's lives.Read More

CA in the Press | January 27, 2015

American Death Camps

Inmates are dying inside U.S. prisons and virtually no one is held accountable Darryl Rainey, 50, had one month remaining on his two-year sentence for cocaine possession without the intent to sell. He was also battling mental illness and served his time in a Florida prison’s psychiatric ward. One night Mr.Read More

CA in the Press | January 1, 2015

Domestic violence victims in NY prisons may get some relief

NEW YORK — Valerie Seeley has been behind bars since 2003. But her troubles started much earlier, in 1995, when she first met Oliver Williams and his 10-year-old daughter while visiting a friend in Brooklyn. “I thought it was a really cool thing that he had his child with him all the time,” she says in a conference room at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York state’s maximum-security prison for women.Read More

CA in the Press | December 18, 2014

End Solitary Confinement for All, Not Some

In response to an opinion piece in the New York Times calling for an end to solitary confinement of teenagers, CA Executive Director Soffiyah Elijah warns against feel-good gestures that ultimately do not address the entire scope of human suffering  and abuse that is a result of solitary confinement across all incarcerated populations.Read More

CA in the Press | November 14, 2014

NY lawmakers probe care for mentally ill inmates

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CA in the Press | July 2, 2014

“Razor wire is the new red, white and blue.”

A quote from Tamar Kraft-Stolar, Director of the CA's Women in Prison Project, interviewed in this Nation Magazine piece examining the chances of OITNB's long term impact on policy reform for incarcerated women.Read More

CA in the Press | May 5, 2014

Bill would give judges discretion when sentencing abuse victims

Lawmakers, domestic violence survivors and their advocates are continuing to push for legislation they say would allow for fairer treatment of victims who commit crimes as a result of their abuse rather than spending long periods in prison or being separated from their children.Read More

CA in the Press | February 21, 2014

Incarcerated Victims


Most women’s pathways into the criminal justice system are linked to their histories of violence and trauma. In a report titled Pathways to, Conditions and Consequences of Incarceration for Women, Dr. Rasheeda Manjoo highlights the strong correlation of violence against women as a central component of women’s incarceration globally.Read More

CA in the Press | June 19, 2013

Bill would give judges more discretion when sentencing domestic violence survivors

Advocates for women in prison are pushing for passage of a bill that would allow judges to use their discretion when sentencing survivors of domestic violence for crimes they commit as a result of their abuse.Read More

CA in the Press | June 12, 2013

Are too many domestic violence victims going to prison?

As the legislature winds to a close in Albany, a coalition of prison reform and domestic violence activists are hoping to convince the Republican-controlled Senate to bring one more bill to the floor for a vote.Read More

CA in the Press | June 6, 2013

Proposal seeks leeway for abused defendants

Bill provides judicial discretion in cases of domestic violence Albany Kim Dadou was a victim of her boyfriend’s beatings before she became a criminal defendant in his homicide. She spent 17 years in prison for killing her partner, a man who put her in the hospital multiple times. She recounted her experience at the state Capitol Wednesday, alongside advocates and lawmakers who gathered to push for more compassionate sentencing for those who act criminally to protect themselves and their children through a proposed bill called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.Read More

Prison Monitoring Reports

Attica State Prison

Attica Correctional Facility, a 2,000-bed maximum security prison in western New York, continues to operate as a symbolic and real epicenter of state violence and abuse of incarcerated persons in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) state prison system 43 years after the 1971 prison uprising and violent suppression by state authorities. Read More

Advocacy Tools Video

Why we need the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act


Join the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) Campaign and be part of a movement to change the criminal justice system’s harsh and inappropriate response to DV survivors who act to protect themselves from an abuser’s violence.Read More

Testimonies Video

May 30, 2012 Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum Testimony, Lady Kathryn Williams

DV Press Conf Legis Gazette Photo 6-7-11 Lady K

Lady Kathryn Williams, an advocate, survivor and member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners testifies about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at the Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum on Domestic Violence.Read More

Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Summer 2012

In this issue; The Close to Home Initiative: youth leaders speak out; The Prison Rape Elimination Act; Welcome to CA’s new staff and board membersRead More

Testimonies Video

May 30, 2012 Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum Testimony, Kim Dadou

Kim Dadou in Albany

Kim Dadou, advocate and survivor of domestic violence, testifies at Women's Forum on Domestic Violence.Read More

Testimonies Video

May 30, 2012 Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum Testimony, Tamar Kraft-Stolar

The Director of the Correctional Association's Women in Prison Project testifies before the Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum on Domestic Violence on May 30, 2012.Read More


Kim Dadou Shares Her Experience As a DV Survivor in Prison

Kim says prison is not the place for a battered woman to be rehabilitated. Read More


Jaya Vasandani Outlines the DVSJA

Jaya Vasandani, Associate Director of the Women in Prison Project at the CA, explains the policy side of the DVSJA and how it would affect both current DV survivors who are incarcerated and survivor defendants after the bill is passed.Read More


Sharon Richardson, DV Survivor Discusses her Reaction to Crime After Crime

Sharon Richardson, a survivor who spent 20 years in prison, discusses the film and how closely it parallels her own experience in the criminal justice system.Read More


Jesenia Santana from STEPS on the film Crime After Crime

Jesenia Santana, senior policy advisor for STEPS, discusses the importance of Deborah’s story and the urgent need for the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.Read More