The Fifth Annual Women & Justice Conference was held at the offices of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Washington, D.C., on April 14-15, 2015. This year's topic was "Women, Prison, and Gender-based Violence." The conference and senior judicial roundtable focused on the role of judges around the world in addressing the causes, conditions, and consequences of women's imprisonment. After the roundtable, the judges attended the Seneca Women Global Leadership Forum, including a special tribute to Sandra Day O'Connor.
In recent years, the number of women who are deprived of their liberty around the world has increased significantly and disproportionately in comparison to male prisoners. Yet international and domestic laws governing prisons and prison policies traditionally have been designed for men. This began to change in 2010, when the United Nations adopted the first set of international prison standards relating distinctively to women, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders ("Bangkok Rules"). The Bangkok Rules recognize that the principle of nondiscrimination requires States to address the unique challenges that women face and to take into account their particular needs. Yet lack of implementation means that the gender-specific experiences of women offenders and prisoners are often overlooked. These include gender-based violence, which many women prisoners experience as a cause, condition, or consequence of incarceration.
Studies of women prisoners reveal a strong correlation between violence against women and women's imprisonment. In many of these cases, the abuse that women experienced played a direct role in the acts for which they were imprisoned. For example, some women have used force to defend themselves against their abusers, while others have committed economic offences in response to coercion by abusive partners. In still other cases, women's experiences of abuse have contributed to their involvement in criminal activity in an indirect but no less real way. Gender-based violence also pervades the experiences of many women deprived of their liberty and is often a direct or indirect collateral consequence of women's incarceration.
Despite the adoption of the Bangkok Rules, much work is needed to implement their standards in laws, policies, and practices globally. More too must be done to understand and address the pathways that lead women to come into conflict with the law and be sent to prison, the particular conditions that women experience in prison, and the consequences of women's imprisonment - as well as the myriad ways in which gender-based violence is intertwined with these causes, conditions, and consequences. The Conference focused on the role of judges and courts in these efforts, examining what judges can do to address the pathways that lead to women's imprisonment, monitor and improve the conditions that women experience in prison, and ameliorate the negative consequences of imprisonment for women and their families.
Sitting, left to right: Christine Jaworsky, Hon. Janet Bond Arterton, Hon. Zaila McCalla, Hon. Joan Churchill, Hon. Josselyne Béjar, Dr. Maria Cristina Camiňa, Mrs. Val Castell, Hon. Suntariya Muanpawong
Standing, left to right: Elizabeth Brundige, Sarah Chandler, Sandra L. Babcock, Mariama Sammo, Hon. Doreen G. Boakye-Agyei, Hon. Vera Nkwate Ngassa, Hon. Tangyin Song, Winta Menghis, Delphine Lourtau, Lynn Hecht Schafran, Olivia Rope, Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, Hon. Debra A. James, Hon. Betty J. Williams, Hon. Laura L. Jacobson, Hon. Shiranee Tilakawardane, Hon. LaTia W. Martin, Hon. Esme Chombo, Hon. Martha Koome, Hon. Virginia M. Kendall, Hon. Cathy H. Serrette, Hon. Sauda Mjasiri, Sarone Solomon, Hon. Mavis E. E. Kwainoe