Lessons from the Past: Revitalizing the Clemency Movement for Battered Women Incarcerated for Killing Their Abuser


  • Jackie Schornstein Tulane University


Research shows that battered women who kill their abusers do so out of self-defense, but the courts and the federal justice system do not recognize these actions as such. The majority of women convicted of this crime are serving sentences of 40 years to life. Although a clemency movement was initiated in the 1990s for women incarcerated for killing their abusers, today little hope of clemency or sentence reform remains for these women. Currently, there is no movement addressing the unjust sentences granted during a time when domestic violence was defined differently by law. This case examines the judicial system’s evolving definition of domestic violence and the initiation of the clemency movement of the 1990s as well as how this movement became impactful. The case also investigates the broader issue of domestic violence and women’s imprisonment in the United States as well as the current lack of momentum toward gaining clemency for abused women’s unjust convictions.


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