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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Support appears to be growing in Albany, N.Y., for legislation that would keep teenagers out of New York’s adult prisons. Governor Andrew Cuomo backed the “Raise the Age” campaign. Now, Assembly speaker Carl Heastie, one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, has signed on, along with a growing number of police and prosecutors.Read More
Twenty-nine U.S. states allow pregnant incarcerated women to be shackled, even during labor and delivery. This barbaric practice has been condemned by many medical and international humanitarian organizations, including the American Medical Association, Amnesty International, and the United Nations Committee Against Torture. But it wasn’t until 2000 that even one state—Illinois—enacted legislation restricting the use of restraints.Read More
“Algunas de las mujeres con las que hablamos nos relataron cómo dieron a luz con grilletes en sus muñecas o sus tobillos, encadenadas durante el parto, imagínate. Otras fueron esposadas durante el embarazo con esas ´black boxes´ o cajas negras que debían cargar arriba de la barriga,” relata indignada esta doctora boricua que entrevistó a casi 1,000 presas en distintas cárceles de NY.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
The state of New York is illegally shackling incarcerated women during childbirth, according to a new report on reproductive justice from the Correctional Association of New York. “Women continue to be shackled on the way to the hospital (even when they are in labor), during recovery (even within hours after giving birth and for long periods of time), and on the way back to the prison (even with waist chains just days after having a C-section),” the report said.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
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
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