by Cathy Jacquet Thompson, Death Row, CCWF
The United States houses more women comdemned to die than any other country in the world. Other than when their crimes occur or when an execution date is scheduled for one of us, we remain totally invisible to society. This is probably how society wants it. They do not want to be reminded that they have condemned mothers and grandmothers to die against their will. When they are reminded, they ease their conscience by painting a picture of us as the worst of the worst women on earth, women too dangerous to even be around other inmates in the prison system, women who have committed unspeakable crimes.
The population of condemned women is .01% of the entire women’s prison population. If you take a look back at history, this country has performed 511 legal executions of women starting in 1632. The oldest woman ever executed was 65 years of age, the youngest was only 12 years old. It’s apparent that age has no bearing on our barbaric society.
Executions in the 1600’s, 1700’s and early 1800’s were public carnivals held in the center of towns immediately after sentencings. Women were forbiden to attend executions. A condemned woman was placed on the scaffolds and humiliated before crowds of cavorting men cheering the executioner. It was a show for men.
There are presently over 3,500 men on death row, by far out numbering the 50 or less women. Women sentenced to death are usuually first time criminal offenders. The vast majority of these women come from abusive families and easily fall prey to abusive relationships.
In the book Women Prisoners-A Forgotten Population, the author shows that almost half of the women presently on death row have a history of abuse and are there for the murder of an abusive spouse or lover. When a woman strikes back at her abuser and kills her intimate partner she is given a longer and more severe prison sentence than what a man receives.
Death rows vary from state to state. There is no set pattern. Some states allow women to mingle for meals and yard excercise, while others never allow any contact with another human and women are locked down up to 23 hours per day.
Fifteen years ago many women who were sentenced to death got reversals and sentence modification to life without parole upon appeal. A man who brutally abuses a woman, finally goes too far with the abuse and kills her will receive a manslaughter conviction with a 15 years or less sentence. Depending on which state he resides in, he can get out after serving half the time. If his victim of abuse had killed him out of fear for her life or to escape the beatings and mental abuse, she gets an average of 15 years to life all the way up to death penalty. Obviously, women are not sentenced according to guidelines.
Women prosecutors seem to feel they have to prove they have no gender bias in their eyes and tend to strike out at women that are accused of murdering their abuser.
It is apparent the justice system is still in the control of men as were executions in the 1600’s, 1700’s, and early 1800’s. It is a sad, but true, fact of reality that female prosecutors fear some type of retribution if they show empathy for an abused defendant who killed her abuser.
Most of these cases are improperly defended because of a lack of available funds for defense and investigation. The funds and resources available to prosecute a case have no limit. Is this just one more panel of men making the decisions? Over 50% of the women on death row were represented by male attorneys, their courtroom was controlled by a male judge, and the courtroom bailiffs were male.
Abuse of women starts as a child and ends in the so called justice system. Our Pledge of Allegiance, taught to a child in grammar school, has been challenged for the mention of God. This writer feels it should be challenged for the very last four words we recite “and justice for all.”