National Census of Women Who are Incarcerated for Murdering their Abusers
The Stanford Criminal Justice Center, in partnership with award-winning writer Rachel Louise Snyder (author of No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us), is leading a national research project to understand the frequency with which women in the United States are imprisoned for killing their abusers.
We assert that:
- the number of women incarcerated under such circumstances is large, probably thousands;
- many of these women are serving very lengthy sentences in our state prisons, thus incurring huge social and physical costs; and
- race affects who is the most victimized.
Many of these women were not able to introduce evidence of their abuse when they were charged, convicted, sentenced, or brought to a parole board to determine eligibility for release. We hope our research could contribute to developing a fertile landscape to address these criminal justice shortcomings and may also inform laws regarding self-defense and other affirmative defenses, and strategies for addressing intimate partner violence.
In a project that will have national ramifications, the team has designed a survey to collect pertinent information from women currently serving sentences for homicide about the circumstances of their current offense(s) and relevant intimate partner violence. The survey has been developed and field tested with criminologists, gender violence experts, formerly-incarcerated survivors, and advocates for victims of intimate partner violence. Field research will begin with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Summer 2023.
The team’s research and results aim to guide policy discussions on charging, sentencing, prison programming, parole and reentry policies and decisions. The results may also inform laws regarding self-defense and other affirmative defenses, and strategies for addressing intimate partner violence.
In June 2023, the team released a new report estimating how many women in California state prisons are incarcerated for homicide offenses that were directly linked to their experiences of intimate partner violence by reviewing California Board of Parole Hearings transcripts. The analysis also examined how these women fare during the parole process. The report includes results along with specific recommendations, and is available here.
* Regilla is the first known victim of intimate partner homicide. A Roman woman who was married at the age of 15 to Herodes, she was kicked down the stairs when she was eight months pregnant with her sixth child. The circumstances of her death were mysterious but have been pinned to her husband’s servicemen. Regilla’s brother charged Herodes with murder, but a Roman court (at the urging of Marcus Aurelius) acquitted him.