Women's Rights

Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families

Women, particularly low-income women and women of color, bear the brunt of the emotional and financial burden when family members are incarcerated, states a September report led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design. The report, which profiled more than 300 family members impacted by incarceration, found that families of individuals in the criminal justice system were saddled with debt from legal fees and lost income, and assumed significant emotional burdens from damages to their familial relationships, social stigma and isolation, and disrupted support systems. The majority of family members on the outside shouldering these financial and emotional costs were women, with low-income women of color suffering an especially disproportionate impact. Transgender women of color with a loved one in prison had a particular set of emotional impacts, because they were more likely to be criminalized themselves, and were therefore generally barred from visiting prisons.

The report outlines recommendations to help stabilize and support these vulnerable families. These recommendations include: restructure criminalization policies to reduce the number of people serving sentences and the length of sentences served, remove barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to access resources like housing and employment, and increase investment and support (job training, education, employment services, etc.) for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families and communities. To read more on the coalition’s findings and recommendations, see the full report.



Women's Human Rights in the New York Times

Last week, The New York Times published a front-page story on the state of women's rights in Afghanistan, specifically focusing on the experience of one woman who was imprisoned for engaging in premarital sex when she was raped and was then released under the condition that she marries her rapist. Responding to this article in “Advancing Women’s Rights”, June Zeitlin, director of the CEDAW [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] Education Project at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, writes:

To the Editor:

As you note in “For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom” (front page, Dec. 2), Afghan government decisions on women’s rights are more critical now than ever as American forces prepare to leave Afghanistan.

One way the United States could really advance the “unfinished business of advancing women’s rights” in that country is by ratifying the international women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Women’s rights opponents in Afghanistan and elsewhere now can question our commitment by pointing out that we are one of only six countries in the world (with Iran, Somalia, Sudan and the Pacific islands Palau and Tonga) that have failed to ratify the treaty. Ratification would show that we are ready to walk our talk for women in Afghanistan and worldwide.

(This article was found on page A28 of The New York Times on December 6, 2011)

The Overbrook Foundation is pleased to see this major publication providing coverage of our grantee’s issue areas and the issue of the United State’s refusal to ratify CEDAW. June Zeitlin has appropriately argued that the US decision to ratify this treaty could have a significant impact on human rights for women both in the United States and around the world. In only a few short paragraphs, Zeitlin identifies the United States’ hypocrisy around providing leadership on women’s human rights issues. Moreover, she explains the important link between our stance on women’s rights and these abuses in Afghanistan, a connection that is easily overlooked when reading an article about injustice in extremely different cultural contexts. The Overbrook Foundation hopes that Zeitlin’s message was received and shared by New York Times Readers because a US ratification of CEDAW, an important step for gender rights and human rights, can only be achieved with significant support among the US citizens and politicians.