Deborah Peagler’s daughter Natasha Wilson joined Senator Loretta Weinberg to visit incarcerated survivors of abuse at a prison in New Jersey.
CLINTON, NJ – On July 29, 2013, as part of an effort to call attention to the plight of abused women imprisoned for crimes against their batterers, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg visited the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, New Jersey’s only maximum-security prison for women. She spoke directly with inmates who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse, many of whom are now incarcerated for fighting back against their abusers.
“The criminal justice system has often failed to account for the violence and abuse they suffered before they acted in defense or retaliation,” Senator Weinberg said. “In many cases they have paid the price with long jail terms that took them away from their families and communities.”
Senator Weinberg has introduced the New Jersey Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (S-2690) which would pave the way for incarcerated victims of abuse to be transferred out of prison to a supervised community reentry program.
“Most female inmates have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse and for many of them their only crimes have been against those who harmed them,” said Senator Weinberg. “After years of incarceration, they need the reentry help. As victims themselves, they deserve it.”
To be eligible for the program before serving her full sentence, an inmate would have to clear a number of hurdles, including a risk assessment, psychological evaluation, and a report showing that her crime was committed against her abuser and no one else.
Senator Weinberg took up the cause after seeing the documentary film “Crime After Crime,” which follows the case of Deborah Peagler, a California woman fighting for her release from prison under a similar state law. Peagler’s daughter Natasha Wilson and Yoav Potash, the producer and director of “Crime After Crime,” joined Senator Weinberg for the New Jersey prison visit. The filmmaker plans to create a short documentary video about it, to be released later this year.
Wilson, Potash and Weinberg share a hope that this video and the broader effort on behalf of incarcerated survivors of abuse will spread to other states. On the eve following their prison visit, they showed “Crime After Crime” at a law firm in New York CIty and participated in a panel discussion with New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and other proponents of New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. The filmmaker and the legislators urged the lawyers in attendance to volunteer to represent incarcerated survivors of domestic violence in seeking their freedom.
In June 2012, attorney Joshua Safran and filmmaker Yoav Potash showed the film “Crime After Crime” and spoke at fundraiser events for SHALVA, one of Chicago’s oldest domestic violence prevention agencies, helping the organization raise roughly $45,000.
AT EVENTS BENEFITTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PREVENTION AGENCIES, the film “Crime After Crime” has helped nonprofit organizations nationwide set new records for both attendance and fundraising.
To date, the San Mateo, California-based organization CORA (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse) has raised the most funds at a single “Crime After Crime” event by securing $160,000 from donors at a May 2012 fundraiser. The CORA event featured video excerpts from the film “Crime After Crime,” and a special awards presentation to honor Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa, the two attorneys featured in the film. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, it was the first time in the nonprofit’s eight-year history that their annual fundraisier completely sold out.
As a featured speaker, Joshua Safran spoke about his own experience with domestic abuse, recalling how a man systematically beat and controlled his mother when Safran was a small child. “Organizations like CORA,” Safran remarked, “give people a much-needed place to turn in those dire situations.”
The following month, Safran appeared in Chicago alongside “Crime After Crime” filmmaker Yoav Potash at an event to benefit SHALVA, the oldest independent Jewish domestic abuse agency in the United States. The SHALVA events featured two screenings of “Crime After Crime” in the evening, followed by a luncheon the next day where Safran and Potash addressed the audience as keynote speakers. SHALVA staff reported that the event exceeded their expectations, raising $45,000 to assist the domestic violence prevention agency.
Other organizations that have held fundraiser events in association with “Crime After Crime” include San Diego’s Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships at Home) and the San Francisco Jewish Family & Children Services’ Dream House domestic abuse shelter. Organizations interested arranging their own fundraiser events in association with “Crime After Crime” should contact Free From Abuse, the nonprofit outreach campaign for the film.
TENAFLY, NEW JERSEY – After Micaela Mangot saw Crime After Crime last summer, the teenager was so moved by the story of the film’s protagonist Debbie Peagler that Micaela spent months organizing a screening of the film in her home state of New Jersey. Her efforts have now paved the way for a new law to improve how the criminal justice system handles the cases of victims of domestic violence in the state.
At the screening in February, State Senator and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) found herself just as moved as Micaela had been the previous summer. The discussion afterwards prompted Senator Weinberg to make an on-the-spot pledge to take action, eliciting enthusiastic applause inside the crowded theater. The senator promised her constituents that she would propose new state legislation on behalf of victims of domestic violence and wrongful incarceration. (See local coverage here.)
Senator Weinberg is now drafting the legislation, based largely on New York’s proposed Domestic Survivors Justice Act. Proponents of the New York bill have also used Crime After Crime screening events to gain public and legislative support, and they aim to secure the votes needed in the New York legislature to pass the bill into law later this year.
Meanwhile in California, Assembly Bill 593, also known as “The Sin by Silence Bill,” is advancing in the state legislature. This bill will significantly strengthen the California law that allows incarcerated victims of domestic violence to petition for their freedom.
Crime After Crime filmmaker Yoav Potash and the lawyers featured in the film plan to continue to support these social impact efforts nationwide, with a goal of showing the film at every law school in America.
Teenager Micaela Mangot brought the film “Crime After Crime” to the attention of New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Senator Weinberg is now working to pass “Debbie’s Law” in New Jersey
November 2011, with additional events to be planned for 2012
In New Mexico, a free public screening at UNM School of Law was accompanied by an in-person meeting between State Representative Gail Chasey, UNM Law students & faculty, and both attorneys featured in “Crime After Crime.” At the meeting and the screening, the discussion focused on potential changes in New Mexico law that could benefit victims of abuse. We will continue this partnership with Representative Chasey and UNM well into 2012 to help determine how Free From Abuse can assist efforts for change in the state.
To deepen community engagement and advocacy for the national primetime broadcast of “Crime After Crime” on OWN, Free From Abuse worked to engage legal and domestic violence agencies across the nation. In advance of the airdate, our Home Viewing and Community Action Guide was made available for free download as a PDF on both the “Crime After Crime” and OWN websites, encouraging agencies nationwide to spread the word about the film and to use the screening as an opportunity to conduct their own fundraising. The effort involved dozens of partners (see list below) and led to some of the highest ratings OWN has received for documentary programming.
Project SARAH, the domestic abuse prevention and intervention program of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, held an immensely successful fundraiser event at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, California. The “SARAH” in the program’s name stands for Stop Abusive Relationships At Home, so the screening of “Crime After Crime” represented an excellent opportunity for public outreach and education. Attorney Joshua Safran and filmmaker Yoav Potash were on-hand to answer audience questions, and to participate in a meaningful dialogue moderated by Cheryl Bruser, Project SARAH Outreach Coordinator. The annual event drew its largest audience ever, with over 380 in attendance, raising approximately $7,000 to benefit Project SARAH clients, all survivors of domestic abuse.
New York has made great strides in passing legislation that would be similar to (and arguably even more significant than) the California law highlighted in “Crime After Crime.” New York’s proposed Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act currently has the support of at least 26 elected representatives in the state. Organizations including the Correctional Association of New York, STEPS to End Family Violence, and the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence have worked with Free From Abuse to hold numerous screenings of “Crime After Crime” as part of their public awareness and media campaign for the proposed legislation. Please see http://www.dvsurvivorsjusticeact.org/dvsja-and-debbies-campaign/ for an article and video about how we are working with these organizations to support changes that can help more women like Debbie Peagler. These activities have been supported by a recent grant from The New York Women’s Foundation. New York state legislators joined Debbie Peagler’s attorney Joshua Safran and Debbie’s daughter Natasha Wilson for a special screening and discussion on January 19, 2012.