A Restorative Project of Inquiry, Documentation and Action
The Voices: Women of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility is a series of oral histories, documenting the fight against domestic violence in New York. A collective of students, directly impacted people, oral historians, and academics have been working to amplify and uplift the work done by activists and domestic violence survivors who have been criminalized by the state of New York.
A major component of The Voices is examining the hearings on domestic violence that took place inside Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 1985. In 2021, we now have a better understanding that hurt people often hurt others, and many incarcerated people are survivors of harm themselves. However, these conversations were not regularly occurring in 1985, making the hearings the first of its kind and a major breakthrough. This hearing allowed women to testify in front of different government agencies and social service organizations and tell their stories related to domestic violence that ultimately led to their incarceration. Too often, these stories are never told and women, trans, and gender nonconforming people are criminalized for their survival.
The Voices project looks back at a powerful historical moment (the 1985 domestic violence hearings at Bedford Hills) to create a lens to critically investigate the current state of affairs for survivors and develop actionable resources for justice and change.
The power of this initiative is centered in the solidarities that will accelerate its impact. These include:
- Leadership by formerly incarcerated women
- Intersectional analyses
- inter-racial, generational, social location of those involved
- Part of the larger women’s anti violence, abolition and restorative justice movements
This project is one part history: exploring and exposing the power of hearings that took place in 1985 and 2 parts education and action as we create resources for helping to free women who are unfairly incarcerated and to change the conditions that got them there to begin with. Our work asks:
- What has changed for women who are abused since the hearings took place in 1985? What policy changes have been enacted since then and what has been their impact?
- What is the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) and what impact is it having on incarcerated survivors today? What can be done to accelerate its impact?
- Why are so many survivors incarcerated today?
- Why is women’s self defense against domestic and sexual violence still criminalized and punished in such severe ways?
- How can we reach women who are already incarcerated and help them take advantage of the DVSJA?
- How can we support other states around the country to enact laws to prevent survivors from being incarcerated in the first place and get them released?
- How can women’s experiences of incarceration be centered in the national conversation about abolition?
- How can we educate the public, attorneys and judges about the injustices being experienced by survivors
The goals of our work are to:
- Elevate and center the experiences and voice of survivors who have been and are currently incarcerated
- Share the untold history of the 1985 hearings
- Keep survivors out of jail and prison
- Help get survivors out of jail and prison
- Support the larger prison reform / abolition movement for women
- Help other states pass legislation to keep abused women out of prison and get those that are already incarcerated out
In order to accomplish our goals we will use the following methods:
- Historical research into the background on female incarceration in NYS and beyond, especially Bedford Hills with a focus on the 1985 Hearings
- Oral history interviews with and between survivors who are formerly or currently incarcerated to surface their personal experiences and insights
- Oral history interviews with activists who have been working on justice for survivors as well as those engaged in prison abolition for women
- Development of a living museum that will digitally share the experiences, ideas and insights from the material above
- Create a discussion guide to accompany the digital exhibit to be used for education, alliance building and advocacy
- In prison /jail workshops on DVSJA
- In community workshops on DVSJA
- Educate judges and attorneys about the DVSJA
- Connect with advocates around the state and nation to share our living museum and conversation guide to encourage action