« Interesting comments from the new Justice during reargument of vagueness issues in Sessions v. Dimaya | Main | After recent SCOTUS win, Duane Buck gets plea deal to avoid any possible return to death row »

October 3, 2017

"Most Women in Prison Are Victims of Domestic Violence. That's Nothing New."

The title of this post is the title of this new Time commentary authored by history Prof Karen Cox. Here are excerpts:

While the mass incarceration of men has dominated the discussion of policing and prisons over the past few years — and rightly so — there’s been a recent shift in thinking about incarcerated women, and not a moment too soon. According to a report by the Vera Institute, women’s incarceration has increased a startling 14-fold since 1970. Like their male counterparts, these women are also overwhelmingly women of color.

Despite the shocking increase in their numbers, however, the specific issues and needs of female prisoners have largely gone ignored. In particular, as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins in the U.S., it’s worth noting that the vast majority of women in prison are single mothers who have been victims of domestic and/or sexual violence.

These concerns have rarely been part of prison-reform discussions, and yet this fact is typical of the history of women’s incarceration in our country.... [T]hanks to a unique historical record created by women in a Mississippi prison in the 1930s, it’s possible to see that the similarities between women’s incarceration then and now is significant.  In both periods, women were more likely to be incarcerated for nonviolent crimes than for violent ones. Likewise, many of the incarcerated women in both cases were victims of domestic and sexual violence whose income was vital to their family household....

Nationally, as the Vera Institute Report shows, the overwhelming majority of female prisoners are held for nonviolent offenses and most are women of color. Among them, 86% are victims of sexual violence.

The difficulties faced by female prisoners are now attracting the attention of politicians.  On July 11 of this year, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, or the “Dignity Act,” on behalf of himself and Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Durbin. The bill aims “To improve the treatment of Federal prisoners who are primary caretaker parents.” To that end, the Dignity Act calls for a more generous visitation policy for incarcerated mothers.  If passed, it would also prevent restraining pregnant women by shackling them or placing them in strait jackets, among other forms of restraint.  Prisons would provide parenting classes and trauma-informed care for those who need it, as well as make basic healthcare products like tampons available.  Gynecological care would also be mandatory.

Since July, the Dignity Act has only advanced as far as the Senate Judiciary Committee where no further action has been taken. Given the stark realities of life for incarcerated women, action cannot come soon enough. Our nation can and should do better than to allow Jim Crow-like prison policies to continue unchecked.

October 3, 2017 at 06:31 PM | Permalink


"it’s worth noting that the vast majority of women in prison are single mothers who have been victims of domestic and/or sexual violence."

Because every negative even that happens in this world to a woman a man is to blame. It may be her father, her pimp, her boss, her husband, her son, or even the handyman. She has no locus or decision making power of her own. Somewhere, somehow, a man is to blame.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 3, 2017 6:45:18 PM

I suggest a new therapy for female prisoners. If you are the lion's den in the zoo, do not climb the tall fence and cross the wide moat to enter it. Lions are beautiful and powerful. Still, proximity to one is a bad idea.

When you see a rich, successful criminal, avoid close physical proximity. And, spend your own money on illegal drugs, do not exchange sex for free illegal drugs.

If you have been beaten and raped, learn from that trauma. That is the purpose of trauma, education. Learn to run away, and not toward the criminal, again and again.

Hey, Booker, you Yale indoctrinated moron, take one of these ladies home on a week's furlough. Show everyone how to handle her behavior better. Oh, and no handcuffs nor shackles. Go for humane treatment and rehabilitation. Report back. Or, else, STFU, you moron.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 4, 2017 2:42:34 AM

I strongly urge the Democratic Party to nominate Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, or better yet, Elizabeth Warren to run for President and for Vice president in 2020. They are fabulous leaders, so very intelligent and charismatic. Please, I beg the Democratic Party to do so. I hope the Dignity Act gets passed to give them a legislative victory. Republican Senators should vote for the Act to boost the careers of these wonderful leaders.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 4, 2017 2:49:12 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB