Why focus on formerly incarcerated women?

Women face unique and special circumstances — before, during and after incarceration. Our project hopes to shed new light on the largely unexposed path of women as the nation takes aim at the huge and important task of ending mass incarceration.

Women’s voices are largely missing from the national conversation on mass incarceration. Through storytelling, Testif-i will navigate the twisted path of gender, race and American justice.

Are women a significant part of the prison population?

Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population. The number of women in U.S. prisons increased by 700 percent between 1980 and 2014. An effective criminal justice reform strategy must address the needs of women.

What happens when mothers are locked up?

Most women in prison are mothers of children under the age of 18. Some are grandmothers; others are principal support for their families. Locking them up for decades creates a multigenerational crisis with a profound impact on their families, their communities and our nation.

Why California?

California incarcerates more women than nearly any other state in the nation, and it is where the population of incarcerated women is growing most rapidly. The largest women’s prison in the world is in California-Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).

Is there a racial divide in California prisons?

Women in California’s prisons reflect the national racial divide when it comes to incarceration. Black women make up just 3 percent of California’s population but constitute 27 percent of women prisoners. Latina women make up 18.6 percent of California’s population but constitute 33 percent of women incarcerated in state prisons.

Is California a model for the nation?

California has also taken some bold steps in reform of the criminal justice system, including initiatives such as Prop 47, which allows people to petition to reduce current or past sentences for nonviolent offenses.

This gives incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women the chance to restore their rights.

The Testif-i project can inspire more women who are eligible to take advantage of the Prop 47 record-change provision.

Testif-i received start-up funding for California, and we’re seeking resources to expand the project to other states.

Why storytelling?

Narratives have power. Social movements have long relied upon the strength of personal storytelling to engender change. From slave narratives to the remembrances of Holocaust survivors, stories make a difference.

The best way to counter stigma and bias is for people to get to know each other. Storytelling allows that to happen.