S&P Toolbox

Defense Campaign Toolkit * Advocacy * Letter Writing Tips * Court Watch * Educational Videos * Resources on Criminalized Survival

Defense Campaign Toolkit

​This toolkit is a collection of tools, tips, lessons and resources developed through our own experiences. It is also an effort to document and reflect on our own movement work. It is important for us to document especially because our organizing work has been led by Black women, women of color, immigrants, and queer/trans people, who are so often erased from history. We hope to preserve some of these histories, build solidarity, and share hope as we continue our collective struggle.

Advocacy Strategies

Advocacy tips for anti-violence victim advocates to support criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Download PDF of Advocacy Strategies

Organizational Paradigm:
  • Adopt principle that survivors already receiving services must continue to be prioritized after arrest and incarceration.
  • Train advocates on the systemic criminalization of survivors, as well as specific pipelines between surviving domestic violence and becoming targeted for arrest and prosecution.

Individual Advocacy:

  • Develop protocol for supporting survivors who are already receiving services after they are arrested.
  • Identify a plan for how advocates can make themselves available to clients after arrest.
  • Research policies of local jails and other ICE detention locations to learn how people who have been arrested are allowed to reach out for help, and incorporate this info into safety planning with survivors.
  • Facilitate support groups in county jails (women’s empowerment groups, etc.) to ensure a presence and support for criminalized survivors. This will help make your services more accessible to current clients who are in custody and survivors who did not connect with your organization before they were arrested.
  • Research local DA’s record on prosecuting survivors. Set up meetings to urge the DA to adopt the principle to not criminalize survival. Organize for the removal of DA’s who prosecute survivors. See #ByeAnita campaign in Chicago as example.

Organizational Paradigm:
  • Train advocates on the processes of prosecution and how survivors’ experience of prosecution mirrors, intersects with, and compounds their experience of domestic violence.
Individual Advocacy:
  • Meet with prosecutor to urge them to drop the charges. The choice to prosecute can be very discretionary, and this is a key point where advocates can intervene. If your organization already has a friendly relationship with the DA, use that relationship for good and do all you can to convince them to drop the charges.
  • Write organizational letters of support to bail or bond out survivors. Offer concrete support such as housing, counseling, plans for safety, etc.
  • Work with defense attorney to help build the survivor’s legal defense. Seek well-qualified domestic violence expert witnesses. Ensure that the attorney is educated about domestic violence and does not incorporate unhelpful stereotypes or misinformation.
  • Advocate for the survivor’s safety during prosecution. Identify points of danger with the survivor, especially if they are being co-prosecuted with the person abusing them. Examples include threats made by the abuser during shared transit to the courtroom or while in the courtroom, abuse by police or jail guards, etc. Urge the defense attorney to advocate for the survivor’s safety if they are being targeted.
  • Be present. Learn how to stay in contact with the survivor, regularly check in with them and ask them what they need. Attend the survivor’s hearings and trial. Consistent presence can be very impactful for people who are isolated and feel like the entire system is against them.
  • Organize courtwatches. Pack the court with supporters, including the survivor’s family and friends, co-workers, members of ally organizations, etc. Consider also inviting members of support groups or other clients, organizational donors, etc. Train everyone on what to do so that they will not be disruptive. Assign some supporters to take detailed notes on court proceedings. Consider wearing organizational t-shirts, or the same color, to demonstrate community support to the judge and other court actors.  
  • Organize letter-writing parties. Invite people to write letters or postcards to send to the survivor to decrease their isolation and let them know they’re not alone.
  • Talk to the media to advocate for the survivor’s freedom. If it is a public case, do not be afraid to write op/eds and do interviews with consistent messaging that the charges should be dropped. If you need to avoid talking publicly about the case for safety reasons, focus on offering statistics about the criminalization of survivors, why it’s important to stop the prosecution of survivors, etc.
  • Fundraise. Work with family and friends that are trusted by the survivor to set up an online fundraiser to help curb the devastating costs of being incarcerated and prosecuted.

Organizational Paradigm:
  • Adopt the principle that the disappearance of survivors into jails and prisons, including immigration prisons, that are far away from people who love and care for them is part of the abusive experience of domestic violence.
  • Partner with experienced advocates of incarcerated people, including formerly incarcerated people, to learn about conditions of incarceration, the kinds of vulnerabilities faced by incarcerated survivors, and how to communicate with and visit the survivor so that you may continue to advocate.  
Individual Advocacy:
  • Continue to communicate with the survivor through jpay emails, letters, phone calls, or a visiting schedule to stay connected with the survivor. Recognize how important it is to be consistent in communication. Send books or other allowable items.
  • Strategize for pathways to freedom. Connect survivor with post-conviction legal resources. Work with the survivor to explore strategies such as appeals, commutations, etc. Contribute to these efforts through writing letters of support. See the S&P/CPEDV letter writing toolkit for more info.
  • Advocate for the survivor’s safety during incarceration. Identify points of danger, document all information, and learn how to advocate for the survivor’s safety with prison officials from those with experience.
  • Support family connection between survivors and their children and other trusted members of their family.


  • Offer to facilitate free workshops, support groups, and DV peer advocacy trainings to incarcerated survivors. California women’s prison populations are overwhelmingly survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and workshops, on-going trainings, and support groups are urgently needed.
  • Organize. Similar to organizing for the survivor’s freedom during the trial, this step may include a number of strategies including courtwatches, group letter-writing, media advocacy, fundraising, petitions, etc. Check out the Survived and Punished defense campaign toolkit for more info.

Organizational Paradigm:
  • Freedom from incarceration is a crucial anti-violence goal. Though the survivor may still need to plan to stay safe from an abuser, their freedom from the abuse of incarceration is a big accomplishment.
  • Train advocates about common short-term and long-term needs for survivors post-release.
Individual Advocacy:
  • Welcome formerly incarcerated survivors into your organizations with open arms! Ensure that they have a ride and a place to go when released. Celebrate their release with them.
  • Hire formerly incarcerated survivors as advisors, peer advocates, admin staff, workshop facilitators, or other positions.
  • Provide reentry resources for survivors, such as:
    • transitional living homes for formerly incarcerated survivors (especially those returning home after serving life sentences),
    • family reunification if they have children,
    • free counseling,
    • develop support groups specifically for criminalized survivors that attend to survival of domestic abuse and incarceration
  • Offer legal resources to support survivors with legal issues post-incarceration, including immigration issues for immigrant and undocumented survivors, family custody issues, etc.

​This document is adapted from a prisoner letter-writing guide created by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Thank you CCWP!

S&P Guide to Letter Writing

Isolation is a key tool of violence for systems of incarceration and domestic/sexual violence. Writing letters and staying connected helps to undo that violence.

Download PDF of S&P Guide to Writing Letters to Incarcerated Survivors

Download PDF of Letter Writing Toolkit for Advocates

Goals of letter-writing to incarcerated survivors:
  • Strengthen our connection to criminalized survivors and collectively resist their disappearance;
  • Strengthen and guide the anti-violence movement by gathering and sharing information on how survival is criminalized;
  • Respect and promote the leadership of incarcerated survivors by responding to requests for information and by asking for their input in all matters of their survival and release;
  • Connect incarcerated survivors with information, resources and support;
  • Monitor and resist abusive prison conditions;
  • Inform us of upcoming release possibilities for incarcerated survivors, including parole hearings and commutation processes, so that we can advocate with survivors for their release;
  • Resist the isolation that incarceration of all forms creates, paying particular attention to how incarcerated women and transgender people disproportionately suffer the loss of outside support systems;
  • Express our solidarity with incarcerated survivors.

Values that guide our communication with incarcerated survivors:
  • Survived & Punished considers direct communication with incarcerated survivors to be a critical part of building a movement to release survivors and decriminalize survival.
  • We offer non-judgmental support from a survivor empowerment perspective.
  • We encourage correspondence that offers encouragement, validation, and concrete support.
  • We believe that incarcerated survivors are the experts on their own lives, those of us who have not survived incarceration are not the experts.
  • We recognize that the violence and control used by prison staff against incarcerated survivors mirrors the abuse that many have experienced from abusive partners.
  • We recognize abusive acts of prison staff as part of a system designed to oppress and control people in prison, especially people of color, immigrants, transgender people, poor people and people with disabilities.
  • We are in solidarity with and support the rights of all incarcerated people. We do not support “divide and conquer” strategies that frame domestic violence survivors as “good” prisoners in comparison with “bad” prisoners who “deserve” to be incarcerated, and thus subject to state violence/abuse.

Other things to consider when writing incarcerated survivors:
  • Please be aware of the scarcity of resources for incarcerated survivors and the power differential that creates — do not make commitments or promises that you cannot keep.
  • Please keep in mind the mixed literacy levels among incarcerated people and try to respond appropriately — ask questions to help assess what the survivor needs and what is the most accessible way for them to receive support.
  • Remember that letters will be opened by prison staff — ask survivors to let you know what they are comfortable sharing and discussing by mail.
  • Please be aware of California prison rules for mail sent to incarcerated people — see Visiting a Friend or Loved One in Prison pp. 20-21.

#FreeThemAll – Educational Videos

Alisha Walker (IL)

Bresha Meadows (OH)

Ky Peterson (GA)

Paris Knox (IL)

Marissa Alexander (FL)

Joan Little (NC)

How to Organize a Book Drive

Book drives are a great strategy to connect with people behind bars, resist the isolating effect of prisons, and raise public awareness.  Below are tips for how to organize a bookdrive. You can also contact existing resources to explore book drive options.

Book selection:

Receiving book donations:
  • Choose an address where you can receive donated books.
  • If possible, use a business address where packages can be delivered throughout the day.
  • If you don’t have a business address you can use and don’t want to use your home address, try reaching out to organizations in your community and ask if one would be willing to receive books for your book drive.

Selecting site for donations:
  • Find and select a local jail, detention center, juvenile hall, or prison that accepts book donations.
  • If you are not aware of institutions in your region, search for “juvenile hall,” “county jail,” “state prison,” or “immigration detention centers” on a map of your town, city, or state.

Distributing book donations:
  • Seek out groups (non-profits, faith-based, etc.) who have access to these institutions and ask them if they would be willing share/distribute books from your book drive.
  • At some institutions, books have a much higher chance of reaching incarcerated people if non-prison staff who run prison programs help make sure they get in.
  • If you cannot find willing people or groups with access, contact the administration of the institution and ask for instructions on how to donate books.

Organizing Resources

A collection of resources to learn more about the criminalization of survivors of gender violence and activist strategies to free them. This list is a work in progress!  If you have suggestions, please contact us.

Explore these campaign websites to learn more about how to develop a legal defense campaign for survivors who are prosecuted or incarcerated.  Strategies include social media actions, fundraising, art, direct action, education and much more!




Criminalization of survival…by the numbers:

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  • 84% of girls in juvenile detention have experienced family violence.
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S&P isn’t about focusing on just the people in cages who are the most “sympathetic” because they have survived domestic and sexual violence. We demand freedom because prisons and detention centers are integral to the culture of rape and domestic violence, because prisons and detention centers *are* rape and domestic violence.

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