Women in Prison, The Cost of Fighting Back Talk, by Jodie Lawston

6 Dec

On Tuesday December 6, I led a discussion on women in prison that particularly focused on women who kill their abusers in self defense.  This discussion was organized by Raihana Siddiq of the Women’s Center at CSU San Marcos (Thank you, Raihana!!).   There are an estimated 2,000 – 4,000 women in prison for killing their abusers in self defense, with about 600 of those women incarcerated in California (see Kathleen Ferraro’s Neither Angels Nor Demons and Elizabeth Leonard’s Convicted Survivors for more on this).  California is one of the first states to have enacted laws around intimate partner violence in murder cases: In 1991, California began to permit expert testimony about intimate partner violence in murder cases, and in 2001, parole boards were directed to take into account histories of intimate partner violence during hearings (Silja Talvi has an excellent overview of this from 2002, here).  The group Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA), originally created by Brenda Clubine, was instrumental in increasing awareness about women who kill their abusers.  The film Sin By Silence, directed by Olivia Klaus, is an excellent and highly recommended resource for understanding how women who have experienced violence and abuse are then treated by the criminal justice system.  It importantly features the women of CWAA so viewers begin to get an understanding of their situations and their incredible resiliency.

During the discussion, people asked what they can do to help.  I’ll reiterate here that educating ourselves in the first step, and then engaging in prisoner support work, or becoming involved with organizations that are already doing this work–at whatever level you are able–helps to make a difference (check out the organizations we have listed on this site, as a start).

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