Legislative Hearings: Battered Women Speak


by Janice Jordan, CCWP/San Diego
Day 2 of the Legislative Hearings started at CIW with a group of women who shared their stories about Battered Women’s Experience/Syndrome. For the majority of those testifying, this had been their first arrest. They all have indeterminate life sentences (nine to life, twenty-five to life, etc.) The studies presented by the expert witnesses indicate that men accused of killing their partners only receive an average of sixteen years. Within the criminal injustice system women usually have to speak to male police, male lawyers, male judges and male psychiatrists about their abuse at the hands of men. Women kill in order not to be killed by their abusers; however they don’t always do it in “the heat of passion” so it doesn’t qualify as self-defense. Many of these women were not allowed to bring their history of domestic violence into their trials because they occurred before 1992 when the laws changed on this matter. The majority of the women had been eligible for parole for years and they urged the Parole Board to consider their history of abuse in deciding upon release as has been mandated by the law since 1996. We know that Theresa Cruz’s recent parole denial is evidence of the lack of awareness and neglect which the Parole Board practices on an ongoing basis.
Sexual Abuse in Prison
The last segment of prisoner testimony came from women who had experienced sexual abuse and assault. One woman testified of assaults she experienced at Chowchilla and Valley State. The other, a former prisoner from CIW charged with a drug-related, non-violent crime told of her two weeks of abuse at the hand of the prison chaplain. “When you come to prison you’re scared. You look to fit in somewhere” She didn’t fit in anywhere but thought she’d be safe in the chapel. There are now four women who have a lawsuit against this chaplain.
I didn’t reveal the names of the prisoners, not for privacy reasons, but because the more I heard, the more it was apparent that of the 11,000 women incarcerated in the California state prison system, any one of them could be represented by the few at the hearing. I want them to know we are carrying their stories wherever we go.
By the end of the second day’s testimony, the systemic problems within the California prison system were more than obvious. The significance of the hearings will only be realized if the flood of testimony about problems is translated into actions which begin to remedy the drastic situation. And beyond these needed but limited steps recommended to correct the worst outrages, advocates for prisoners will continue to work for the abolition of a system based on control, punishment and warehousing of human beings.
To get a copy of the videotape of the hearings contact Senator Polanco’s office at 916.334.6175.