Survivors of Abuse in Prison Fact Sheet

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Survivors of Abuse in Prison Fact Sheet
In prison

  • A 1999 study found that 82% of women at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility had a childhood history of severe physical and/or sexual abuse and that more than 90% had suffered physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
  • This study also found that 75% of the women had experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during adulthood.
  • Nationwide, more than 57% of women in state prisons and 55% of women in local jails report having been physically and/or sexually abused in the past.
  • Two-thirds of female state inmates with histories of abuse and 68% of female jail inmates with histories of abuse report that the abuse was perpetrated by an intimate partner.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that more than 37% of women in state prisons have been raped before their incarceration.
  • The Bureau also reports that women prisoners are at least three times more likely than male prisoners to have been physically or sexually abused in their past.
  • Women in prison are at least twice as likely as women in the general public to report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse.
  • A 1996 government study found that 93% of women convicted of killing intimates partners (husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends) had been physically or sexually abused by an intimate.
  • In 2005, more than half of women in New York’s prisons for homicide offenses had experienced abuse in their lives. Nearly one-quarter reported abuse by the victim of their crime.
  • 84% of women sent to prison for violent felony offenses in 2008 were first time felony offenders.
  • 89% of women prisoners who report having been abused before arrest state that they used drugs regularly before their imprisonment.
  • A 1996 study found that a majority of women incarcerated in the New York City jail system reported engaging in illegal activity in response to experiences of abuse, the threat of violence, or coercion by their male partners.
  • Counseling programs that assist women deal with issues surrounding abuse have proven to reduce recidivism rates: women jail inmates participating in the TAMAR Project in Maryland, for example, had a recidivism rate of less than 3%.
  • Women who participated for more than six months in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility’s Family Violence Program have a significantly lower recidivism rate than non-participants.
  • Survivors of violence incarcerated for defending themselves against abusers pose little threat to public safety: they have extremely low rates of recidivism, and, most often, no criminal records and no history of violence other than the offense for which they are in prison.
  • Of the 38 women convicted of murder and released between 1985 and 2003, not a single one returned to prison for a new crime within a 36-month period of release – a 0% recidivism rate.
  • Of the total number of women sent to prison in 1980 for a violent felony offense, only about 9% were convicted of another violent felony after their release.

In the general population

  • 1.5 million women in the U.S. are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year.
  • More than 50% have been assaulted at some point during their lives.
  • It is estimated that only one in seven domestic assaults come to the attention of the police.
  • The financial costs of intimate partner abuse are estimated to be more than $5.8 billion each year.
  • More than $4 billion annually is spent on direct medical and mental health care services for
  • Battering is the number one cause of injury to women in the U.S. Attacks by abusers result in more injuries requiring medical treatment than rapes, muggings and auto accidents combined.
  • In 2007, women comprised 81% of intimate partner homicide victims in New York State.
  • Since 1976, about 30% of all female murder victims nationwide have been killed by an intimate partner.
  • Studies show that women in substance abuse treatment programs are significantly more likely to report histories of physical or sexual abuse – especially childhood abuse – than women not in treatment.
  • Studies also show that girls who have been sexually abused are more likely to be arrested as adults for prostitution.
  • Over three million children nationwide witness domestic violence each year.
  • Women of all cultures, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, income levels and ages
    experience abuse. Nevertheless, socioeconomic status and cultural background significantly
    influence the impact of domestic violence: low-income women, for example, often have fewer options than women with more financially stable support networks, such as the option to leave an abusive relationship and still have the ability to afford to take care of children; women who are immigrants may be even more hesitant than citizens to reach out for help or call the police out of fear of being arrested themselves and deported.

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