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.

 

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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

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News | February 28, 2015

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

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News | February 12, 2015

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News | December 19, 2014

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News | April 29, 2013

Coalition for Women Prisoners 2013 Advocacy Day

Albany

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

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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

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News | March 14, 2013

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CA in the Press | April 10, 2015

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

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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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CA in the Press | March 20, 2015

Support grows for keeping teens out of NY prisons

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

CA in the Press | March 10, 2015

Shackled and in Labor

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

CA in the Press | March 7, 2015

Una vida dedicada a las presas y sus derechos

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CA in the Press | March 3, 2015

Despite anti-shackling law, pregnant prisoners say practice persists

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CA in the Press | February 20, 2015

New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant Incarcerated Women

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

CA in the Press | February 17, 2015

Assessing Health Care of Women in NY Prisons

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CA in the Press | February 17, 2015

Report: Gross Violations of Women’s Reproductive Rights in NY Prisons

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

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

VAW

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

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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

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CA Bulletin: Summer 2012

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

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Testimonies Video

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Jaya Vasandani Outlines the DVSJA

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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