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.
As a follow up to the Correctional Association of New York's statement last month critical of reported plans by New York to severely limit the number of visits by family members to incarcerated loved ones in NY state prisons, in early March the CA wrote directly to Governor Andrew Cuomo to express its opposition to the plan.Read More
CA Applauds Commitment to Raise the Age in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address, Laments No Mention of Racism, Violence, and Abuse in NYS Prisons
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CA Applauds Commitment to Raise the Age in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address, Laments No Mention of Racism, Violence, and Abuse in NYS Prisons January 9, 2017 (New York, NY): The Correctional Association of New York roundly applauds the continued commitment of Governor Andrew Cuomo to raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York, ending the prosecution and incarceration of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.Read More
The New York Times in this editorial today is saying what we at the CA have been reporting on for decades: without any any transparency and accountability, the abuse of people who are incarcerated will persist and those who are responsible will still act with impunity. Until accountability is the norm and not the exception, the abuse -- and in some cases, loss of life -- will continue.Read More
Board of the Correctional Association of New York Appoints Carlton S. Mitchell Interim Executive Director
On September 22, 2016, the Board of Directors of the Correctional Association of New York announced the appointment of Carlton S. Mitchell as Interim Executive Director. He will start his duties in September 2016. Read More
August 8, 2016, New York): The Correctional Association of New York is heartbroken by the apparent suicide of John MacKenzie, and outraged by the ongoing cruelty of the New York State Parole Board. The Parole Board continues to destroy people’s lives by repeatedly denying release to those who have transformed their lives, demonstrated their readiness to return home, and do not pose a risk to society. Despite public outcries and judges’ admonitions, the Board continues to deny parole based on the nature of their original offense -- something that can never change regardless of what they have accomplished or who they are today.Read More
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
Victor Pate spent almost two years in solitary confinement in New York prisons, off and on. Once, he said, he was isolated for 90 days for having too many bed sheets in his room. Only two sheets were allowed per prisoner, but Pate was at his prison job when laundry pickup came, he said, so he kept a few extra sheets to ensure he would have clean ones.Read More
When Tara Oldfield-Parker, 24, was arrested on charges of shoplifting, she had just gotten her period. She asked the officers in charge of her holding cell in a police station in Queens for a sanitary pad. Sure, they said. But they would need to call an ambulance to get one. After about an hour and a half, they produced a sterile gauze pad, apparently obtained from an ambulance.Read More
Menstruation and Incarceration: Prisons often lack or withhold necessary hygeine products, study shows
Menstruation can be inconvenient even in the best circumstances. However, for individuals who are incarcerated, there are obstacles that can make it much more than a minor stressor. Horror stories range from placing orders for period products that arrive too late (or not at all), to having to prove to correctional officers that their products have been fully soiled in order to receive more of them.Read More
For decades, domestic violence survivors have been criminalized, prosecuted, and imprisoned for acts carried out by their abusive partners. In January, 30-year-old Noor Zahi Salman was arrested in connection with the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre that left 49 people dead and many more injured and traumatized. Salman’s name had, until then, been largely unfamiliar to the U.S.Read More
A petition has been signed by more than 2,100 people opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reduce visitation at New York’s 17 maximum security correctional facilities. As of Saturday afternoon, there are 2,102 supporters of the petition titled “Don’t Restrict Visits in NYS Prisons!” The petition calls the governor’s plan to alter the visitation policy “regressive, counterproductive and cruel.” The initial goal for the petition is 2,500 supporters.Read More
Photo: Auburn Citizen A proposal in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017-18 executive budget would reduce the visitation schedule at New York’s 17 maximum security correctional facilities and result in the elimination of 39 positions. Under the governor’s plan, the number of days visitors are allowed at maximum security prisons would be reduced from seven to three.Read More
EXCLUSIVE: Gov. Cuomo proposes reduction in visitation days for inmates at state’s maximum security prisons
ALBANY – Inmates at the state’s maximum security prisons are facing fewer visits from people on the outside under a proposal by Gov. Cuomo. Cuomo in his budget plan unveiled last week tucked in a plan to reduce the number of days in which visits are allowed at maximum-security state prisons to three days a week, down from seven.Read More
Bresha Meadows has been in jail for 175 days, accused of killing her father. Police say she took a gun and shot her father in the head while he was sleeping. Bresha is awaiting trial on charges of aggravated murder, but her mother says she’s not a criminal — she’s a hero.Read More
Christina Wall spent 19 months at Riverside Correctional Facility for a first-degree felony. While she was in prison, she met with many different organizations that promised to help her re-enter society when she’d done her time. When she got out in June of 2015, Wall, a first-time inmate originally from New Jersey, tried to get in contact with all of these groups.Read More
To the Editor: Re “Serving as a Role Model During a Father’s Absence” (The Neediest Cases, Dec. 21): It’s nice to see young Jaylen benefit from the MentorCHIP program. But children whose parents are incarcerated need regular visits with their parents. Studies show that children’s emotional, scholastic and social adjustment improve when they have regularly scheduled visits to alleviate the pain of losing a parent.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