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.
Lawmakers, Advocates, and Survivors of Solitary Confinement Back Legislation Limiting Use of Isolation in New York’s Prisons and Jails
(April 12, 2016, Albany, NY): The New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) held a press conference with lawmakers and survivors on Tuesday to advocate for legislation that would limit the use of solitary confinement and other forms of isolation in New York’s prisons and jails. The press conference was part of a full day of activities by over 200 people from across the state to draw attention to the torture of solitary confinement and to advocate passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A. 4401 / S. 2659. Read More
(December 16, 2015, New York, NY): Today, the Correctional Association of New York (CA), the state’s oldest criminal justice reform organization, released the following statement in reaction to the announcement of an agreement with the state of New York resulting from litigation challenging NYDOCCS’ use of solitary confinement:Read More
On October 1, The New York Times published yet another article exposing the scope and breadth of violence and abuse that permeates the New York State prison system. In the latest of a string of accounts dating back to the Spring of 2015, NYT reporters Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip highlight the prison guard known throughout Clinton C.F.Read More
The Correctional Association of NY conducted in depth interviews with 30 people currently incarcerated at Clinton on August 19 and 20, 2015, and corresponded with many more people held at the prison over the last few months. The information reported provides further confirmation of both extensive staff brutality in the aftermath of the June escape from Clinton, as reported by the New York Times; and longstanding and pervasive staff violence and abuse at Clinton, as last documented by the CA’s October 2014 report. The brave people willing to come forward to report what is happening behind the walls shared tragic and harrowing accounts highlighting several things everyone should know about Clinton.Read More
(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
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
To the Editor: Re “New York State Taking On Union of Prison Guards” (front page, April 12): Since 1846, the Correctional Association has monitored and reported to lawmakers and the public on prison conditions, bearing witness to a pervasive and persistent culture of violence and abuse suffered by teenagers, women and men in New York State prisons.Read More
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Cherelle Baldwin was technically free. It had been nine days since her release from York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only prison for women. She spent almost three years there, waiting to stand trial for the murder of her ex-boyfriend before being found innocent. But even though she was back outside, free to go anywhere she wanted, whenever she wanted, Baldwin said she felt trapped.Read More
‘Why Won’t She Go to the Police?’ or How the Police Tolerate Gender-Based Violence in Their Own Ranks
Why won’t women “just go to the police”? Maybe because they don’t have faith the police will help them. Brutality often begins at home, including in police families. In department after department, law enforcement officials are ignoring disciplinary and legal standards for officers accused of sexual violence and domestic violence. At least two self-reported surveys reveal that up to forty percent – 40% – of police families experience domestic violence and sexual “misconduct” is the second most prevalent form of police misconduct, after excessive force.Read More
When he was assaulted a second time in two weeks at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, Melvin Wells believed it was payback. The inmate — who received $65,000 in 2011 to settle a lawsuit that grew out of the incidents — had dared to file a complaint, or grievance, against the officer he said had beaten him the first time.Read More
The criminal justice system in New York City is ill equipped to deal with the needs of LGBTQ young people who engage in survival sex, according to a new report from the Urban Institute. Youth cycle through the system, an experience that compounds the difficulties that may initially have led them to have survival sex, said Meredith Dank, lead author of the report and a senior research associate at the institute.Read More
At 5 a.m. on June 12, 2012, lying on a mat in a locked jail cell, without a doctor, Nicole Guerrero gave birth. Guerrero was eight-and-a half months pregnant when she arrived 10 days earlier at Texas’ Wichita County Jail. The medical malpractice lawsuit Guerrero has filed—against the county, the jail’s healthcare contractor, Correctional Healthcare Management, and one of the jail’s nurses, LaDonna Anderson—claims she began experiencing lower back pain, cramps, heavy vaginal discharge and bleeding on June 11.Read More
A few days after Ramon Fabian arrived at the Ulster Correctional Facility on the southern edge of the Catskill Mountains last year, a guard conducting the morning head count yelled at him to shut up. Inmates at Ulster, a medium-security New York State prison, are required to stay in place and keep their voices low during the count.Read More
A Poughkeepsie Journal investigation found two dozen cases locally and 175 statewide in which inmates who said they were beaten by prison officers received money in lawsuit settlements or verdicts. The beating of inmate Steven Ostane at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill was so severe, so horrific, that he was left with the bone in his upper leg poking grotesquely through his skin, a compound break of the body’s strongest bone.Read More
Prison Guard ‘Beat Up’ Squad Accused of Killing Inmate: Why Prison Abuse Is So Common and Overlooked
Samuel Harrell’s death at the hands of a group of correctional officers at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon N.Y. known as the “beat-up squad” is a tragic, but all too common instance of abuse taking place in America’s correctional facilities. According to an investigation by the New York Times, Harrell, who has bipolar disorder, got into an argument with correctional officers on April 21, after packing his bags and saying he was headed home.Read More
In an hour-long interview on WBAI’s “On the Count” a weekly radio show that is broadcast in New York State prisons, the CA’s Scott Paltrowitz, the Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project (PVP)and Tyrrell Muhammad, a PVP Associate who was formerly incarcerated in New York State and knows all too well what occurs in NYS prisons, discuss the recently reported cases of abuse, neglect and homicide at the hands of NYS corrections officers.Read More
The Correctional Association of NY conducted in depth interviews with 30 people currently incarcerated at Clinton on August 19 and 20, 2015, and corresponded with many more people held at the prison over the last few months. The information reported provides further confirmation of both extensive staff brutality in the aftermath of the June escape from Clinton, as reported by the New York Times; and longstanding and pervasive staff violence and abuse at Clinton, as last documented by the CA’s October 2014 report.Read More
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
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