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 | June 29, 2015


(June 29, 2015, New York, NY) The Correctional Association of New York (CA) today enthusiastically welcomed the quick action last week by New York State lawmakers in passing new anti-shackling legislation. This bill strengthens enforcement of the current law and expands anti-shackling protections to women throughout their pregnancy and eight weeks post-partum.Read More

News | March 11, 2015

“The kids aren’t all right”

n this timely and insightful piece in The Hill on March 11 by the CA's Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco, Director of the Juvenile Justice Project, and Sarah Bryer, Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), the authors lay out a cogent and fact-based case for why there needs to be significant change in our youth justice system.Read More

News | March 3, 2015

CA Says Attica Guards’ Plea Deal in 2011 Gang Assault is Historic, Not Justice

March 3, 2015, (New York, NY): The misdemeanor plea deals offered to the three Attica guards who brutally beat George Williams are historic. Indeed, it is the first time in the history of New York State that any guard has been prosecuted for brutality against someone in prison. It is significant because it sends a message that prosecution is possible. But there’s another message here, one that we know all too well -- that the lives of people who are incarcerated hold little to no value. Read More

News | February 28, 2015

NY Times article exposes culture of violence at Attica long known by the CA

A New York Times article published today exposes what we at the Correctional Association of New York have long known: that Attica Correctional Facility continues to operate as a symbolic and real epicenter of state violence and abuse of incarcerated persons in New York State prisons. The history of the 1971 rebellion and the state’s violent suppression still infuse Attica’s walls and operations. Read More

News | February 12, 2015

CA Releases 5-Year Study of Reproductive Health Care for Women in NYS Prisons

On February 12, 2015, the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York (CA), the state’s oldest criminal justice reform organization, released a major report entitled, “Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons,” the most extensive study of reproductive health care in a state prison system to date, and one of the most in-depth studies of conditions for women in prison in the country.Read More

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 | 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

CA in the Press | August 14, 2015

Audio: Group That Reviews New York Prisons Discusses Reports Of Clinton Correctional Abuse

71 inmates have filed complaints with Prisoners Legal Services alleging violent retribution by corrections officers at Clinton Correctional facility during and in the wake of the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat.  The revelations by the New York Times have shocked many people.  The Correctional Association of New York is the only group that has statutory authority under New York state law to enter prisons to monitor conditions.Read More

CA in the Press | August 11, 2015

Inmate Says Guards Threatened to Waterboard Him After New York Prison Break

After two inmates escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in early June, leaving everyone to wonder what awful things might happen outside the prison’s walls, there were plenty of horrible things already happening to the prisoners still trapped inside. A new report from the New York Times says that inmates accused guards, who were searching for information about the escape, of punching them in the face and ribs; slamming them against walls; shackling them so tight that it caused bruises; threatening to waterboard them; denying them medical care after hurting them; tying plastic bags around their necks until they passed out; putting them in solitary confinement for weeks; throwing away their wedding rings, photos, years of correspondence, and diaries; taking away honor-block privileges that took years to learn; yelling at them; and transferring them to different prisons.Read More

CA in the Press | August 2, 2015

Pell grants to bring college back to prison: US is ‘a nation of second chances’

A couple of months after Sam Hamilton was released from Fishkill correctional facility, a medium security prison in upstate New York where he spent 32 years on charges of felony and murder, he returned to the prison – this time as a civilian. Hamilton was there to celebrate. His friends, 24 inmates at Fishkill were graduating with degrees in organizational management from Nyack College, which they completed while serving time.Read More

CA in the Press | July 15, 2015

Windows from Prison Provides Visions of Home

The women in Clearman’s workshop who chose to participate wrote letters detailing the location they wanted photographed, instructions for the photographer and, in some instances, a brief explanation of why the location was important to them. Requests were also received from a nearby juvenile detention facility. Strandquist’s only stipulation was that the locations be within the New York City metropolitan area.Read More

CA in the Press | June 16, 2015

Solitary in NY — HALT

In 2010 the New York state legislature passed a law that offers treatment to prisoners diagnosed with mental illnesses instead of being placed in solitary confinement. That law limited the treatment option only for people diagnosed with some, not all, mental illnesses and PTSD was not included in the list. The law also permitted prison officials to keep prisoners in solitary confinement, indefinitely.Read More

CA in the Press | June 6, 2015

For Advocates, Push to End Solitary Confinement in Prison Only Begins With Youth Isolation

DeAngelo Cortijo was 11 years old when he locked himself in a group home van. For that, he was sent to a juvenile prison in San Francisco. There, he got into a fight and was kept in his room for four days. Locking a person in a room or cell is frequently referred to as isolation, isolated confinement or solitary confinement.Read More

CA in the Press | June 4, 2015

Black Domestic Violence Survivors Are Criminalized From All Directions

Handcuffed Woman via Shutterstock) Domestic violence survivors are one of the most criminalized groups of women in the United States. A Department of Justice report found that more than half of women in jails and prisons were victims of abuse prior to incarceration. Trans women of color also face disproportionate rates of violence and incarceration.Read More

CA in the Press | April 10, 2015

Woman Allegedly Forced To Give Birth On Jail Cell Toilet, Alone

A new lawsuit claims that a female inmate was forced to give birth on her jail cell toilet, after medical attendants ignored her pleas for help. Plaintiff Tawni Kosnosky, says she was booked in 2013 around her seventh month of pregnancy, which she informed Snohomish County Jail medical staff about. But when her water broke days later, and she repeatedly pressed the emergency button in her cell, she says that staff ignored her calls for assistance.Read More

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CA in the Press | April 10, 2015

Restraint of Pregnant Inmates Is Said to Persist in New York Despite Ban

Maria Caraballo and her daughter EstrellaPhoto Credit: Christopher Gregory for the New York Times. If you go by the official records of the New York State prison system, Tina Tinen’s account of being shackled right before and immediately after the birth of her son is fiction. But the real world has never lived just in official records, no more than it dwells only in anecdotes.Read More

CA in the Press | March 27, 2015

Reproductive Health Care in Women’s Prisons “Painful” and “Traumatic”

It was Kim Dadou’s second day at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. As part of the prison’s intake process, she was brought to the prison’s medical unit for a gynecological exam and pap smear. “We were brought down three or five at a time,” she told Truthout. It’s like an assembly line.Read More

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Advocacy Tools Video

Ending the barbaric practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women

Watch the Correctional Association’s video about the barbaric – and illegal – shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth. In 2009 New York enacted a statute restricting the use of shackles on women during childbirth. The law bans outright the use of restraints on women throughout labor, delivery and recovery “after giving birth,” which is meant to cover at least the duration of a woman’s stay at the hospital. Read More

Prison Monitoring Reports Reports & Research

Reproductive Injustice

  Every time the CA visits a women’s prison in New York,  reports abound concerning the poor standards of health care in general, and the struggles  experienced by  women who are incarcerated to secure women-specific  care.   “Reproductive Injustice:  The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State,” the February 2015 report by the Women in Prison Project, reveals  the failure of the New York State prison system  to provide quality reproductive health care and treat women with respect for their basic dignity and human rights.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