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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Public opinion across the state favors judicial discretion for defendants that are survivors of domestic violence. Read More
When Miyhosi Benton was escorted to court from the Orange County Jail in New York in 2011, an officer fastened cuffs around her ankles, a belly chain around her waist and shackles around her wrists. It’s a routine procedure for prisoners attending trial, but Benton, now 26, was five months pregnant with her second child at the time.Read More
For the most part, women in prison deal with the same health issues as women in the community: periods, pregnancy, menopause, HIV/AIDS. But reproductive health care and health education in New York’s prisons is sorely lacking, according to a report released last week by the Correctional Association of New York. The only independent organization with unrestricted access to New York’s prisons, the Correctional Association produced the study by conducting surveys and visiting women’s correctional facilities between 2009 and 2013.Read More
In what is being considered the most extensive investigation into women’s reproductive healthcare in New York’s state prisons, an eye-opening series of allegations of human rights abuses and neglect are coming to light. The results are staggering: shackling inmates after delivery—despite a state law forbidding restraints during or after labor; delayed trips (or none at all) to medical examiners, leading to sexually transmitted infections and other conditions to worsen; a limited supply of tampons and pads that led to women improvising with magazines and newspapers.Read More
(February 16, 2015) What does solitary confinement have to do with reproductive justice? Quite a lot, says a new report about reproductive health care in New York’s women’s prisons. The Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice policy and advocacy organization, released Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons.Read More
(February 13, 2015) A damning report released this week by the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York finds that the quality of reproductive health care in the state’s prisons is “shockingly substandard.” The report details consistent violations of the state’s anti-shackling law, severely limited access to birth control, lack of trauma-informed clinical care, and a routine denial of basic hygiene items like sanitary napkins and toilet paper.Read More
Imagine being pregnant and going into labor. Now imagine having handcuffs around your wrists attached to a chain, leading to a chain wrapped around your waist. Another chain leads from your waist to your feet, where cuffs keep them only inches apart. This is a practice known as shackling. Across the United States, prison policy dictates that people be shackled whenever they are transported outside the prison.Read More
On an “All Things Considered” radio segment aired on February 12, 2015, Tamar Kraft-Stolar, Director of the Women in Prison Project and author of the CA report, “Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons,” spoke with Natasha Haverty about the prison system’s continued practice of shackling women during labor and childbirth, despite a 2009 law forbidding it.Read More
Today the Correctional Association of New York released a major report calling on the state to overhaul its substandard health care for the women it imprisons. Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons draws on five years of research, including interviews with almost a thousand women in prison, data from more than 1,500 surveys filled out by women in prison, and reviews of health care policies and health services data.Read More
New York state prison authorities have continued the illegal practice of shackling pregnant inmates during labor, fail to provide most female prisoners with enough sanitary napkins and toilet paper, and do not train medical staff to work with trauma survivors — a crucial oversight, since the majority of incarcerated women have histories of abuse and sexual violence.Read More
Women in New York State Prisons Don’t Have Enough Sanitary Pads, Not to Mention Other Daily Indignities
Pregnant women and those who have just had babies in New York state prisons are shackled—despite a 2009 state law that prohibits the use of restraints during labor, delivery and recovery. Women who are not pregnant use newspaper and magazines while on their periods because they are not provided an adequate number of pads.Read More
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 newly –released 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
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
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
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
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
Kim Dadou, advocate and survivor of domestic violence, testifies at Women's Forum on Domestic Violence.Read More
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 says prison is not the place for a battered woman to be rehabilitated. Read More
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, 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