Press Releases

NEW REPORT FINDS HARSH PUNISHMENT FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS WHO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM ABUSE AND URGES GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS TO ADOPT KEY REFORM MEASURES

OVER 140 ADVOCATES TRAVEL TO ALBANY TO ADVOCATE FOR THE DV SURVIVORS JUSTICE ACT TO EXPAND JUDICIAL DISCRETION IN CASES INVOLVING SURVIVOR-DEFENDENTS

For Immediate Release June 6, 2011
Contact: Tamar Kraft-Stolar, Director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association

917-816-4184 (cell)

Jaya Vasandani, Women in Prison Project Associate Director

202-321-9687 (cell)

On Tuesday, June 7 at 10:00am in the Legislative Office Building’s LCA press room in Albany, bill sponsors Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, formerly incarcerated survivors, and domestic violence and criminal justice advocates will hold a press conference to urge the passage of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A7874-A/S5436) and to release a new report co-authored by the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School and the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York (CA).

After the press conference, more than 140 advocates from domestic violence organizations and the Coalition for Women Prisoners, a statewide alliance of more than 1,600 people from 100 organizations coordinated by the CA’s Women in Prison Project, will meet with more than 60 legislators to advocate for the bill.

The report, From Protection to Punishment: Post-Conviction Barriers to Justice for Domestic Violence Survivor-Defendants in New York State, (download, 1,442 KB) finds that survivors who engage in illegal acts to protect themselves from an abuser are routinely sent to prison for long periods of time with little chance for early release. For example, four of the survivors whose narratives appear in the report, served a combined total of 57 years: Kate, Victoria and Desiree (names changed for protection), all of whom defended themselves from abusive husbands after years of devastating battering, served 17 years, 17 years, and 13 years, respectively, and Natalie, who followed her long-time abuser’s orders to participate in a robbery, served 10 years.

Much of this punishment is a result of New York statutes which often require judges to dispense long prison terms to survivor-defendants, even when they believe probation and an alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) program is the most appropriate sentence. ATIs are particularly appropriate for survivor-defendants, who most often pose no risk to public safety and have extremely low recidivism rates. Such programs cost significantly less than prison yet are more effective in helping survivors heal from abuse, rebuild their lives and stay connected with their children.

A central report recommendation is the enactment of the DV Survivors Justice Act (A7874-A/S5436) which would help to address this problem by:

(1) Allowing judges to sentence DV survivors convicted of crimes directly related to abuse to shorter prison terms and, in some cases, to community-based ATIs instead of prison; and,

(2) Allowing DV survivors currently in prison to apply to the courts for resentencing.

The Act contains protections to ensure appropriate use of this discretion. A judge can only grant an alternative sentence if s/he finds that: (1) the defendant was, at the time of the offense, a victim of domestic violence; (2) the abuse was a “significant contributing factor” to the crime; and (3) a sentence under current law would be “unduly harsh.”

A number of New York State judges along with dozens of domestic violence and criminal justice organizations across the state support the bill, including: the New York State Coalition Against DV, Suffolk County Coalition Against DV, Sanctuary for Families, Lawyers Committee Against DV, Men Can Stop Rape, Rockland Family Shelter, Safe Homes of Orange County, STEPS to End Family Violence, Legal Action Center, Osborne Association, Fortune Society, Women’s Prison Association, Center for Community Alternatives, Hour Children, Greenhope Services for Women, Bronx Defenders, WORTH and the Correctional Association of New York – the organization coordinating the press conference and the campaign.