Women and the Criminal Justice System
Women in the criminal justice system face specific challenges and have different needs than men. Because of women’s unique stabilizing and caretaking roles, incarcerating women exacts a devastating toll not only on the women themselves, but also on their children, families and communities. Nearly three-quarters of women in prison are mothers, and many were the primary caregivers for their children prior to incarceration.
Low-income women of color and communities of color are disproportionately affected by incarceration: nearly 65% of women in New York’s prisons are African-American or Latina, most from a handful of poor urban areas across the state.
For the most part, women are incarcerated for crimes related to substance abuse, trauma and lack of economic opportunity. Virtually nowhere is this gross misuse of incarceration more evident than when considering the challenges women in prison faced before they entered the system.
Eighty-percent of women in U.S. prisons suffered severe violence as children, and 75% were abused by an intimate partner during adulthood. An estimated 90% of women in New York’s prisons have experienced sexual or physical violence in their lifetimes. More than 12% are living with HIV and 22% have hepatitis C—rates almost double those of incarcerated men and many times higher than the general public. More than 40% have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness and nearly 9 in 10 report struggling with a substance abuse problem. Half do not have a high school diploma.
Prisons fail to identify and address women’s specific needs and place women at high risk of re-traumatization. Women in prison commonly receive sub-standard reproductive health care, insufficient mental health services, and little aid in maintaining relationships with – and sometimes protecting parental rights to – their children.
Our society has a strong tendency to define incarcerated women solely by their crimes, ignoring the various circumstances that affect their lives and actions. Like all women, if given the right support and opportunity, incarcerated women have the agency, resilience and strength to overcome challenges and lead healthy, meaningful and productive lives.
Applying a gender lens to criminal justice policy and practice is critical to protecting women’s rights, building strong and healthy communities, and ensuring that women are treated fairly and humanely and have access to services in line with their needs. Through prison monitoring, public education, coalition-building, leadership development and policy advocacy the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project works to create a criminal justice system that addresses women’s specific needs and that treats people and their families with fairness, dignity and respect.
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
In 2015, CA Executive Director Soffiyah Elijah organized three trips to Cuba, providing travelers an opportunity to observe up close how Cuba's criminal justice system operates in comparison -- and contrast -- to the way that the United States' system prosecutes and incarcerates people. In a recent 2016 issue of Guernica magazine, writer Hyatt Bass, who was a part of one of the CA delegations to Cuba, interviewed Elijah about the distinctions between the two countries when it comes to the concept of punishment.Read More
CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION OF NY HAILS NEW LAW ENDING SHACKLING OF INCARCERATED WOMEN THROUGOUT ALL STAGES OF PREGNANCY
December 22, 2015, New York): Today, the Correctional Association of New York (CA), a leading opponent of the practice of shackling pregnant women who are incarcerated, roundly applauded Governor Cuomo for signing the 2015 Anti-Shackling Bill. It is considered to be the most progressive such legislation in the nation. The new law fortifies an existing 2009 ban against shackling during labor and delivery, and, most significantly, extends the law to include all stages of pregnancy.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
It's time for New York to end shackling! As advocates band together to end the barbaric practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women in New York State, the Women in Prison Project (WIPP) and the Coalition for Women Prisoners are working with allies across the state to urge Governor Cuomo to sign the 2015 Anti-Shackling Bill. Read More
(October 22, 2015, New York, NY) Today, the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York (CA), the state’s oldest criminal justice reform organization, released a report entitled, “HIV Services for Women in New York State Prisons,” New York has the highest number of HIV-positive incarcerated people and the second-highest number of HIV-positive incarcerated women of all prison systems in the country. Read More
CA RALLIES ADVOCATES, WOMEN’S RIGHTS GROUPS & FORMERLY INCARCERATED WOMEN TO URGE GOVERNOR TO SIGN NEW BILL BANNING SHACKLING
(October 5, 2015 - New York, NY) Today, an enthusiastic crowd of supporters of a new bill that would end the practice of shackling pregnant women incarcerated in New York gathered across from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NYC office in busy midtown to urge him to sign the bill when it reaches his desk. Read More
The CA's ongoing fight to end the inhumane policy in New York State prisons of shackling pregnant women has reached a new phase. As our 2014 report, "Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health for Women in New York State Prisons" (hyperlink) exposed -- and extensive press coverage reflected --there have been numerous violations of the 2009 law which outlawed shackling during labor and delivery. 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
Reproductive health care in prison is often severely substandard, threatening women’s health and rights. The Correctional Association of New York’s upcoming report, “Reproductive Injustice: the State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State’s Prisons,” takes readers behind prison walls to understand the challenges women face in accessing quality reproductive health care and the daily degradation incarcerated women experience, from shackling during pregnancy to the separation of mothers from their newborns to the denial of sufficient sanitary supplies.Read More
For incarcerated women in the U.S., the experience of a monthly period can be stressful and demeaning. While jails often supply menstrual products, such as pads and tampons, they are typically poor quality and doled out in limited numbers. If a woman needs more than what’s been allocated for her, she might be able to buy products from the commissary — if she can afford it.Read More
Everyone’s favorite dramedy Orange is the New Black is at its best a show that never fails to pick apart the unfair absurdities of women’s lives. And there is no better example of this than the season 4 plotline about periods. Litchfield’s overcrowding issues reach a critical point: The women’s prison is running out of tampons and maxi pads.Read More
Russelle Miller-Hill was convicted on a drug charge and sent to Albion Correctional Facility in 1991. Born and raised in the Bronx, the prison near Niagara Falls was far from home, and she says she got no visitors. Towards the end of her term, she went down to New York City to spend about 18 months at Bayview Correctional Facility, she says.Read More
On Season 4 of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” Litchfield has a tampon and maxi pad shortage — and it’s as miserable as it sounds. The fifth episode of the hit series opens with a long line of inmates at Litchfield prison facility waiting in line for menstrual products, only to be turned away because the prison is completely out of maxi pads.Read More
Periods can turn a women’s prison into a hormone-charged hell when inmates don’t have access to affordable menstrual products and facilities don’t enforce humane policies. The topic recently gained more attention after the launch of the fourth season of Netflix‘s Orange Is The New Black, which featured an episode centered around the facility’s shortage of pads and tampons.Read More
If you’re an Orange is the New Black fan, no doubt you’ve already binge-watched the entire new season that hit Netflix last Friday. Since you’ve already torn through it, you might have also noticed that episode five, when the prison announces menstrual pads are “inessential” for inmates and forces them to buy their own, seems quite similar to the “tampon tax” that recently hit the news.Read More
New York Will Now Provide Free Tampons In Public Schools, Correctional Facilites And In Homeless Shelters
New York has once again made history. This time they’ve done it by passing a law that promises access to menstrual products in public schools, homeless shelters and correctional facilities. They already beat the UK to passing an marriage equality act in 2011 when we slogged behind, passing one in 2013.Read More
New York City will make history today with passage of the nation’s first legislative package to ensure access to menstrual products in public schools, shelters and corrections facilities. In doing so, New York has stepped out as a leader in a growing national and global movement for menstrual equity. The city’s new laws acknowledge that the ability to manage menstruation falls squarely at the intersection of sound health, economic and educational policy.Read More
photo credit: Melissa Jeltsen NEW YORK — LadyKathryn Williams-Julien’s first childhood memory is of her father punching her mother in the face. She was 6. Her mother fell to the ground, where Williams-Julien was already cowering. They were eye-to-eye, mother and child, both trembling with fear. “Her whole face was covered with blood,” she said quietly, sitting at the kitchen table in her apartment in the Bronx.Read More
From a 6-by-9-foot room, Sara “Mariposa” Fonseca told a story much bigger than herself. Fonseca, who served 15 months in solitary confinement at a California women’s prison, wrote letters to playwright and activist Julia Steele Allen. The result, a play named “Mariposa & the Saint,” will be performed at 7 p.m.Read More
Under unique statutory authority granted to the CA in 1846, WIPP monitors conditions in women’s prisons in New York, a role played by no other group in the country. WIPP coordinates the Coalition for Women Prisoners, a statewide alliance of more than 1,800 people, and carries out advocacy campaigns to reform harmful criminal justice policies.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
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
For a woman in transition from incarceration, securing housing is much more complex that just finding shelter. Read More
The Correctional Association testified about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Fiscal Year 2013-14 proposed budget for public protection, focusing on his proposal to close two women’s prisons, Bayview and Beacon Correctional Facilities. Our testimony expresses the concern that closing Bayview and Beacon Correctional Facilities will eliminate some of the most effective opportunities incarcerated women have to maintain family ties and prepare for a successful reentry.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