The sentencing of women under the U.S. criminal legal system has exploded profoundly and alarmingly over the past 25 years. According to the Sentencing Project, the number of women in prison in the United States increased by 700% between 1980 and 2014, growing from just 26,378 women behind bars in 1980 to 215,332 in 2014. As a result of this seven-fold jump in the criminalization and incarceration of women—the majority for drug and other nonviolent offenses, the incarceration rate for women has now surpassed that of men and continues to accelerate.
The overwhelming majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence, and more than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18. Three-quarters have histories of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner during adulthood, and 86% have suffered serious physical and/or sexual abuse as children. Many women find themselves incarcerated even after defending themselves against intimate partner violence and sexual assault. The intersectionality among trauma, sexual assault, domestic violence, and incarceration faced by thousands of women across America—known as the abuse-to-prison pipeline—is evident. The need for gender-responsive, community-based services has never been greater.
Launched by CJI in 2020, the Until She’s Free is a necessary, strategic, and timely response to this growing crisis. Until She’s Free is an innovative, participatory grantmaking circle comprised of community organizers, many of whom have experienced incarceration, working alongside donors and donor activists. We share power and a passion for supporting a meaningful, transformative, and systemic change in the criminal legal system, as well as a commitment to interrogating the elements of a Just Sisterhood.
Until She’s Free is a grantmaking initiative strictly supporting women-led organizations addressing state-sanctioned violence against women and girls, including trans women and trans girls, and gender-nonconforming people, and their criminalization and subsequent incarceration, while also elevating their leadership in bringing about foundational change.