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.

 

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News | September 10, 2018

US inmates mark end of prison strike with push to regain voting rights

( Sept. 9. 2018,The Guardian) Inmates within America’s overflowing prisons are marking the end of a 19-day national prison strike on Sunday with a new push to regain the vote for up to 6 million Americans who have been stripped of their democratic rights.Read More

News | August 26, 2018

Prison Strike Organizers Aim to Improve Conditions and Pay

(August 26, 2018) New York Times: The inmates at North Carolina’s Hyde Correctional Institution hung three banners from the prison fence last week as supporters gathered outside. One sign asked for better food; another requested parole; the third said, “In solidarity.” The protest came in support of a nationwide prisoner strike to call attention to the low inmate wages, decrepit facilities and harsh sentences that organizers say plague prison populations across the country. Read More

News | June 13, 2018

The Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act Passes New York State Assembly

Rally to End Solitary in Harlem. Photo NYC Quaker

(June 13, 2018, New York): The New York State Assembly yesterday passed the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A.3080B-Aubry / S.4784A-Parker). The Correctional Association of NY (“CA”), a 174-year-old non-profit organization with legislative authority to inspect NY prisons, has long advocated for passage of HALT as the most recent part of its decades-long effort to oppose the use of solitary confinement. The CA issued the following statement: “The Correctional Association of NY applauds and thanks Speaker Carl Heastie, lead Assembly sponsor Jeffrion Aubry, and the New York State Assembly for passing the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. "Read More

News | June 6, 2018

“Prison Within Prison, Voices of Women Held In Isolated Confinement in New York”

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June 5, 2018 – Correctional Association of New York publishes new report: “Prison Within Prison, Voices of Women Held In Isolated Confinement in New York” Prison Within Prison, Voices of Women Held In Isolated Confinement in New York is a collection of oral and visual observations from 20 women about their experiences being held in isolated confinement in New York’s women’s prisons and Rikers Island.Read More

News | March 1, 2018

The Rise in Women’s Incarceration and the Gender Informed Practice Assessment

The United States has 5% of the world’s women, and 33% of its incarcerated women. Women’s imprisonment rose 700% nationally between 1980 and 2014, and women of color are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. In response to this dramatic increase, the National Institute of Corrections and the National Resource Center on Justice-Involved Women worked to develop effective practices for women’s prisons through a Gender Informed Practice Assessment tool, known as GIPA.Read More

News | December 13, 2017

Correctional Association of New York releases “Solitary at Southport: A 2017 Report Based Upon the Correctional Assn.’s Visits, Data Analysis, & First-Hand Accounts of the Torture of Solitary Confinement from One of New York’s Supermax Prisons”

New York, NY (December 13, 2017): Today The Correctional Assn. of NY (CA), founded in 1844 and one of the oldest prison watchdog organizations in the country, released a 92-page report providing graphic first-hand depictions of physical, mental, and emotional abuse as a result of days, weeks, and often years of being caged in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day.Read More

News | October 18, 2017

NY sets new rules for solitary confinement in local jails

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York is adopting new standards for the treatment of prisoners held in solitary confinement in local jails, including mandated time outside their cell and increased reporting requirements in an effort to prevent prisoner mistreatment. The changes, issued Tuesday by the state's Commission on Correction, come amid heightened scrutiny of solitary confinement and its psychological effects on inmates.Read More

News | June 28, 2017

Video Release: The ASFA Expanded Discretion Law and the Rights of Incarcerated Parents

ASFA photo

The Coalition for Women Prisoners (CWP) and the Women in Prison Project (WIPP) work in partnership to facilitate and support the implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act Expanded Discretion law (ASFA), which provides an opportunity for parents who were incarcerated or in residential treatment to regain custody of their children from foster care beyond the normal 15-month time frame. In partnership with Echoes of Incarceration, we are releasing a series of videos created to educate the various stakeholders about the law.Read More

News | June 19, 2017

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act Challenges Double Punishment

A recent report by the Prisoner Reentry Institute of John Jay College (PRI), “Women InJustice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail in New York City,” is the latest study point out that that physical and sexual trauma and abuse histories are a significant root cause for women and girls’ involvement in the criminal legal system. Read More

News | March 6, 2017

CA Pens Letter to Governor Cuomo Opposing Any Reductions in Prison Visiting

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 in the Press | August 20, 2018

Advocates campaign against solitary confinement in Eltingville with makeshift cell

Staten Islanders had the opportunity Thursday night to briefly experience one of the hardest parts of our nation’s penal system. A group of advocates brought a makeshift solitary cell to the South Shore YMCA in Eltingville to show people the level of isolation inmates can face. The model was constructed by Doug Van Zandt, of Albany, after his son Benjamin hanged himself in a cell just like the 6-foot-by-9-foot model.Read More

CA in the Press | August 18, 2018

U.S. imprisons too many people

I am responding to a recent editorial in the Enterprise along with an opinion piece about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) recent comments about the American penal system. Although her remarks appear controversial to many, they have unfortunately detracted from a major and very real issue with the U.S. justice and penal system.Read More

CA in the Press | August 17, 2018

Release prisoners from solitary: This is psychological torture any way you put it

One candidate for New York governor, Cynthia Nixon, wants to abolish solitary confinement in our prisons. To New Yorkers like me who have survived this torture, that means she has done her homework. My first experience with solitary confinement was a 60-day sentence in what’s known as “Keeplock” at Coxsackie prison.Read More

CA in the Press | August 14, 2018

Experience solitary confinement at prison reform event

Ever wonder what it’s like to be in solitary confinement? The New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) is hosting an exhibition on injustice in the prison system on Thursday at the South Shore YMCA in Eltingville. The event is from 6 to 8 p.m., and will have a panel presentation, discussion and a replica of a solitary confinement cell.Read More

CA in the Press | May 14, 2018

Empty Cribs in Prison Nurseries

When Cassidy Green learned that she was pregnant, she and her husband didn’t discuss cribs, co-sleeping, or even diapers. Instead, they worried about more basic and immediate challenges, like whether Green would be able to spend more than a few days with her baby. Green was in prison, 9 years into a 15-year prison sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York’s maximum-security women’s prison.Read More

CA in the Press | April 2, 2018

N.C. Prisons End Shackling of Women During Childbirth, A ‘Barbaric’ Practice 32 Other States Still Allow

“People’s human rights do not end when they enter the walls of a prison.” Ending a practice described by medical experts as “barbaric,” the director of North Carolina’s state prisons said Wednesday that women who give birth while they are incarcerated will no longer be restrained or shackled during labor. Women’s rights advocates applauded the decision, but expressed anger and dismay that North Carolina is now one of just 18 states that specifically bars prison employees from shackling female inmates during childbirth.Read More

CA in the Press | March 30, 2018

The Prosecution of Noor Salman, Pulse Shooter’s Widow, Highlights the Criminalization of Domestic Abuse Survivors

The first time Noor Salman told her aunt about the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her husband was also the first time she found herself free of him. It was June 2016, just five days after her husband, Omar Mateen, had walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring many others before he died in a shootout with police.Read More

CA in the Press | March 4, 2018

Parenting in prison: Ohio nursery offers inmate moms, children a chance to bond

MARYSVILLE, Ohio — One-month-old Javon Jackson fidgets with his mom’s jacket as he drinks from his bottle and holds her hand. His mom coos. Her friends laugh, and a precocious, 2-year-old toddler stops by and waves hi. In all, it is a typical, upbeat moment for any mother and child — until prison officials tell Javon’s mom, Janisha Meredith of Cleveland, that a head count is scheduled in 5 minutes.Read More

CA in the Press | March 3, 2018

Make no mistake, solitary confinement is torture

If New York state were punishing misbehaving prisoners by pulling out their fingernails, I believe our local senators and assemblymen would put a stop to this. Yet the legislature continues to allow the extended use of solitary confinement in prisons. Make no mistake, this is torture. Don’t take my word for it.Read More

CA in the Press | December 14, 2017

VIDEO: Advocates renew push to end solitary confinement

Southport Correctional Facility is one of two super-maximum security prisons in the state that places an emphasis on solitary confinement. A new report looking at the facility’s practices is highlighting the negative impact solitary confinement can have on a human. So advocates are making a renewed push for the HALT Act.Read More

Advocacy Tools

“Prison Within Prison: Voices of Women Held in Isolated Confinement in New York”

“Prison Within Prison: Voices of Women Held In Isolated Confinement in New York” is a collection of oral and visual observations from twenty women about their experiences being held in isolated confinement in New York’s women’s prisons and Rikers Island. They are advocates and leaders on a range of issues in the movement to end the negative impact of mass incarceration and mass criminalization on women.Read More

Advocacy Tools

“Women and Isolated Confinement”

WOMEN AND ISOLATED CONFINEMENT Women held in isolated confinement are subjected to dehumanizing treatment—treatment that makes it difficult for them to maintain their dignity, hygiene, nutrition and personal property. They can get in trouble for something as simple as attempting to talk to the person next to them. They are denied commissary privileges which provide them with food to supplement prison meals.Read More

Organizational Materials

Women in Prison Project (WIPP) Brochure

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

Advocacy Tools Video

Ending the barbaric practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women

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

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

Advocacy Tools

A Place to Call My Own, Women and the Search for Housing After Incarceration

For a woman in transition from incarceration, securing housing is much more complex that just finding shelter. Read More

Testimonies

NYS Public Protection Committee Budget Hearing: February 6, 2013

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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

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Organizational Materials

CA Bulletin: Summer 2012

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

Testimonies Video

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

Kim Dadou in Albany

Kim Dadou, advocate and survivor of domestic violence, testifies at Women's Forum on Domestic Violence.Read More

Testimonies Video

May 30, 2012 Senate Democratic Conference Public Forum Testimony, Tamar Kraft-Stolar

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