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.
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
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
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
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
On March 6, formerly incarcerated women and other advocates braved sub-zero temperatures to participate in the Coalition for Women Prisoners’ 13th annual Advocacy Day, coordinated by the CA’s Women in Prison Project. Over 300 people attended the Albany event, making it the Coalition’s largest Advocacy Day yet. The day began with welcoming remarks by Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, sponsor of the Coalition’s Advocacy Day and Chair of the Committee on Corrections, followed by the presentation of six Advocate for Justice awards.Read More
Domestic violence is a national epidemic to which federal and state authorities have been increasingly responsive. At the federal level, funding for programs under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994–designed to criminalize battering and to support victims of abuse—such as hotlines, shelter services, civil and legal services, and grants for training law enforcement, was reauthorized in 2000.Read More
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
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
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
Domestic Violence, Women’s Rights, and Criminal Justice Advocates to Hold Press Conference about Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act in Albany on June 5th
Over 100 advocates from across the state will join in Albany on Wednesday, June 5th to lobby legislators to enact the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A.4314-B and S.3337-B), which would establish more compassionate sentencing for survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered.Read More
119 Domestic Violence, Women’s Rights, and Criminal Justice Groups Join Forces for DV Survivors Justice Act
A sign of the promising prospects for the bill’s success this year, the Act has picked up support from leaders of the Independent Democratic Caucus Senator Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) and Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), and from Senator Greg Ball (R-Putnam) who joins Senate sponsor Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon) as a co-prime sponsor of the Act. In the Assembly, the Act is sponsored by Speaker pro tempore Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens).Read More
Advances in addressing domestic abuse in New York have fallen significantly short when it comes to abuse victims who are charged as criminals.Read More
Soffiyah Elijah, 57, is the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in state prisons. The first woman and first person of color to head the 170-year-old organization, she lives in Park Slope with her parents and the elder of her two sons.Read More
A member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners speaks with Melissa Harris-Perry about the intersection of women, prison and domestic violence. Read More
Why are survivors who act to protect themselves denied "Stand Your Ground" protections?Read More
Democratic lawmakers have proposed a new bill, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would allow a judge to offer alternative to incarceration programs or lesser prison terms for survivors convicted of crimes directly related to their abuse. One woman shares her story. Also, we discuss NYRA allegations, Joe Bruno's re-indictment, and President Obama's upcoming visit to upstate.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
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
Filmmaker Yoav Potash discusses his film and the DVSJA, which is aimed at bringing public attention to the issues raised by the documentary.Read More
A 20-minute documentary featuring interviews with formerly incarcerated survivors and facts and analysis about the criminal justice system’s failure to appropriately respond to domestic violence survivors who become involved in criminal activity as a result of abuse.Read More