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The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act: Learning From NY’s New Law to Challenge the Incarceration of Survivors

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Produced on January 21, 2020

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Course Information

Course Description

Violence and trauma form the foundation of many women’s pathways into experiences with the criminal justice system, and survivors who act to protect themselves are regularly criminalized and incarcerated. Implementing actions to interrupt this system of punishment and the policies that fuel it, however, remain an enormous challenge.

The recent enactment in New York of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) – the first sentencing reform of its kind in the country – presents an unprecedented opportunity in this regard. The law, which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed in May 2019, expands judicial discretion and creates sentencing alternatives for survivors convicted of crimes directly related to abuse. Additionally, the law includes a retroactivity provision which provides opportunities for currently incarcerated survivors to apply to the courts to be resentenced and released earlier. The DVSJA’s alternative sentencing provisions went into effect immediately after its enactment, and the law’s resentencing provisions became effective on August 14, 2019. 

The passage of the DVSJA was the result of a 10-year campaign carried out by the Coalition for Women Prisoners and led by currently and formerly incarcerated survivors. The new law holds significant potential to reduce the long-term incarceration of survivors facing criminal charges and to bring home survivors currently in prison. The law can also inform related legal and advocacy efforts across the country.

This course, organized by the Women & Justice Project, will review the DV Survivors Justice Act statute, discuss implementation efforts that are currently underway, and shed light on the criminalization of survivors and the experiences of survivor-defendants in the criminal justice system.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Analyze the provisions of the DVSJA and its implications for related efforts across the nation
  2. Review current efforts to implement the DVSJA and how to get involved with these efforts
  3. Discuss the criminalization of survivors and the experiences of survivor-defendants in the criminal justice system
  4. Understand the expertise and leadership of currently and formerly incarcerated survivors, and how that expertise and leadership led to the passage of the DV Survivors Justice Act

Credit Information

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 Marcy L. Kahn served as a trial and appellate judge in the New York State Court System for 32 years, recently retiring as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the First Judicial Department.  Prior to commencing her judicial career, Justice Kahn worked for nearly a decade as a civil litigation partner and associate in major New York City law firms. Earlier, she was appointed a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the New York State Special Prosecutor Investigating Corruption in the New York City Criminal Justice System.

Kahn has developed and presented educational programs for judges and lawyers both nationally and locally for more than three decades, including programs for the National Judicial College, the American Bar Association, the United States Department of Justice and the New York State Judicial Institute.   She was an invited speaker at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at the Vatican in 2019, and also at a parallel event at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2018. Kahn is the author of numerous published judicial opinions and several law review articles. 

 Justice Kahn received her B.A. from Stanford University and her J.D. from New York University School of Law, where she was an editor of the Review of Law and Social Change.

Kim Dadou Brown

Women & Justice Project (WJP)

Kim Dadou Brown is an Associate at the Women & Justice Project (WJP), which advances the leadership and builds the power of women directly impacted by incarceration to transform the criminal justice system. WJP’s guiding principle is that girls and women most directly impacted by the criminal justice system have the right to be and should be leaders in efforts to transform that system and the conditions that drive that system. Kim identifies as a domestic violence survivor who served 17 years in prison for defending herself from her abuser.  During the eleven years she’s been home, Kim has spoken publicly to a wide variety of audiences about the intersection of trauma and women’s incarceration. She has also testified in the New York State Senate and has extensive lobbying experience in Albany. Kim was a leader in the successful campaign to pass the 2019 Domestic Violence (DV) Survivors Justice Act, which allows judges to sentence DV survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered to shorter prison terms, and allows incarcerated DV survivors to apply to the courts for resentencing.  Kim has been featured in various media, including New York 1, New York NOW, Legislative Gazette, Huffington Post, Albany Times Union, North Country Public Radio, Gannett, and the New York Law Journal. Kim has also appeared as a guest expert on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Mercy College.  

Alan Rosenthal is a criminal defense and civil rights attorney with over 40 years of experience.  A graduate of Syracuse University College of Law he has litigated cases involving serious felonies, police misconduct and violations of civil rights in both jails and prisons.  For seven years he served as the Director of Justice Strategies, the research, training and policy initiative of the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA). As the Director of Justice Strategies he supervised and provided mitigation services in capital cases as well as all levels of sentencing advocacy.  He is currently in private practice providing sentencing consulting services to defense attorneys throughout New York State. He has presented to lawyers at CLE programs for the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, New York State Bar Association, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, National Alliance of Sentencing and Mitigation Specialists, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, New York State Judicial Institute, New York County Defender Services, New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, the New York State Defenders Association, and many County Bar Associations, and for Public Defenders in Maryland and Florida.  His CLE programs have included such topics as sentencing, sentencing advocacy, mitigation, plea negotiations and client-centered counseling of a plea, the collateral consequences of criminal convictions, Rockefeller Drug Law Reform, SORA, judicial diversion, challenging the probation report at a sentencing hearing, understanding the interplay of a sentence and DOCCS early release programs, Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act and ethics. Mr. Rosenthal has also written many practice articles on sentencing in New York and practice manuals.

Mr. Rosenthal has served on the New York State Bar Association Special Committee on Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions and the Special Committee on Reentry.  In March 2006 he was honored with the Outstanding Service to the Criminal Bar Award by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and in 2014 he was the recipient of the Wilfred R. O’Connor Award presented by the New York State Defenders Association.

Judge James has been a jurist for almost a quarter century and presides as Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, Civil Branch.  She has adjudicated thousands of civil actions in every type of case and controversy.  As an interim Supreme Court Justice, she conducted arraignments and NYC Family Court pre-petition detention hearings in NYC Criminal Court on many weekends and holidays. 

Spurred by her bail hearing experience, Justice James became a member of the Women in Prison Committee (WIP) of the National Association of Women Judges.  For several years, she chaired the WIP-NAWJ District 2 (New York) chapter and facilitated a collaboration between the Cornell Law School Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and the Correctional Association of New York (CA).  As a result of their collaboration, CA and the Avon Center convened a meeting of stakeholders and issued a report entitled “From Protection to Punishment: Post- Conviction Barriers to Justice for Domestic Violence Survivor-Defendants in New York State“.

Judge James is also member emeritus of the Task Force on Mass Incarceration of the New York City Bar Association (NYCBA).  “How to Become an Assistant United States Attorney” and “Getting Appointed to a Criminal Justice Act Panel for the Second Circuit and the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York” were forums held during her tenure as chair of the NYCBA Minorities in the Courts Committee. 

Sharon White-Harrigan is the Executive Director of BEYONDrosies2020, a campaign aimed at closing the women’s jail on Rikers Island, NYC, and ensuring that incarcerated women receive the comprehensive, trauma-informed and empowering services that they deserve to heal and have a successful reentry. Prior to leading BEYONDrosies2020, Sharon was the Program Director of a temporary residence for formerly incarcerated women at the Women’s Prison Association. She has worked in a range of direct service fields including reentry, domestic violence, homelessness, mental health and substance abuse. She has also worked on policy advocacy efforts and was a leader in the successful campaign to pass NY’s DV Survivors Justice Act in 2019. Sharon is a motivational speaker who travels the country to speak with a wide range of audiences and press, including the New York Times, Daily News, Amsterdam News, and various radio. In her presentations, Sharon draws upon her expertise as a licensed social worker, survivor of violence, and 11 years of incarceration. Sharon’s story is featured in the documentary Strength of a Woman. Sharon sits on the Advisory Board of The Women’s Building and serves as a consultant to the Women & Justice Project. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Lehman College, and a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Criminal Justice from City University of New York where she was a Thomas W. Smith Fellow. Sharon is the recipient of the 2017 Frank & Lisina Hoch Award for social justice advocacy and activism.


Karla F.

really exceptional presentation, clear legal content and trauma informed perspective and the information from survivors was critical to this presentation. First rate job.

Anne R.

Kim and Sharon, especially, brought the points home. Terrific!

Mary F.

Excellent presenters, content and necessary to move the needle for relationship violence survivors.

andrea h.

Excellent! Very broad application

Gail S.

Everyone was informative and clear. Sharon White-Harrigan's explanation of trauma-informed defense and Kim Dadou-Brown's examples were especially compelling.

Jeremy B.

Excellent and well rounded presentation. A lot of useful practice tips as well as larger contextual analysis.

Julia B.

great panel - was wonderful to have survivors on the panel and their experiences and expertise really added to the legal substance.

Michaella L.

Interesting topic

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