There are thousands of mothers in women's prisons around the country who have been arrested because of domestic violence. An investigation by Mother Jones revealed that dozens of women are incarcerated in Oklahoma alone for failing to protect their children from domestic violence. Other women are locked up because they killed their abusers, or because violent partners forced them to commit crimes.
However, Oklahoma prisons may be able to accommodate domestic violence survivors in the near future. Toni Hasenbeck, a Republican lawmaker in the state, recently introduce a bill that could give some of them another chance. Although the Universal Defense Act is currently just a framework, Hasenbeck hopes the law will allow courts to shorten sentences for some survivors, allowing them to leave prison earlier than they otherwise would, explained an attorney who worked with her on the project
“You’re saying, ‘Look, this person was abused, and a lot of people believe they deserved more nuance in the sentencing process because of the abuse,” says the attorney, Colleen McCarty, of the nonprofit Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “We’re gonna provide that.”
It is expected that the Oklahoma bill will look much like New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, a groundbreaking law passed in 2019 that empowers judges to shorten prison sentences for people who can prove that the crime they committed was connected to domestic violence. It applies to both new cases and old ones, so it should help people at any stage of their trials, whether they are still going through their trials now or have already been incarcerated for years.
A piece legislature like this could have major implications in Oklahoma, which incarcerates more women than almost any other state. This bill may have the power to vindicate dozens, if not hundreds, of women who have been incarcerated for protecting themselves from abusers.
We hope that the state of Oklahoma will do right by victims and survivors of domestic violence, who are often framed and punished for rightly fighting back against patriarchal violence and are failed by a system that enables that violence.
Source: Mother Jones