Virginia Christian, first woman executed by Commonwealth of Virginia

Event Information

Date & Time
March 8, 2012 -
4:15pm to 5:45pm
Bechtel International
584 Capistrano Way Conference Room
Stanford , CA
California US

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Women Prisoners: No Right to be a Mother


Women are the fastest growing population in the US prison system, outstripping men in all 50 states. 

When asked to describe mothers who are in prison, many would characterize them as hysterical and psychotic, or neglectful and heartless.  In essence, they face harsher standards– laboring under the burden of lives filled with violence, drug abuse, and poverty while at the same time, being measured against – and failing- the standard of the ideal mother.

That said, women are only a small part of the overall prison population, at around 7 percent.  So why focus on women prisoners?

The panel will feature Stanford Law Professor, Joan Petersilia, in conversation with leaders of non-profit organizations, to discuss this growing issue of women prisoners. The discussion will look at the realities of women’s incarceration today, including the impact on families, communities and recidivism, as well as possible solutions.

This event is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow.

Facts about women in prison:

  • In California, the population of women in prison grew 1,522% between 1977 and 2004, rising from 661 female inmates to 10,882
  • Black women represent 30 percent of all females incarcerated under state or federal jurisdiction, and Hispanic women 16 percent
  • Two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers of a minor child
  • Children of incarcerated women often fall into the foster care system or are subject to fast-track adoption policies


  • Joan Petersilia
    • Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law
    • Faculty Co-Director, Stanford Criminal Justice Center
    Dr. Joan Petersilia has spent more than 25 years studying the performance of U.S. criminal justice agencies and has been instrumental in affecting sentencing and corrections reform in California and throughout the United States. She is the author of 11 books about crime and public policy, and her research on parole reform, prisoner reintegration and sentencing policy has fueled changes in policies throughout the nation....
    • Founder and Executive Director, A New Way of Life
    Susan Burton and her story of perseverance in overcoming overwhelming odds is an inspiration to women across the United States, particularly formerly incarcerated women and women in recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs. After cycling in an out of the criminal justice system for nearly fifteen years, Susan gained freedom and sobriety and founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 1998. She opened her doors to...
    • Administrative Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
    Hamdiya Cooks has over 25 years of experience working on issues facing women in prison. Having served 20 years in the federal prison system, while incarcerated, Hamdiya led Muslim women prisoners in the struggle to honor their religious practices, including headgear and fasting. She was also a key organizer for Black Culture Workshops at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, CA for over 15 years. At LSPC,...
  • robin levi
    • Consultant
    Robin Levi is consultant working in the field of human rights. For eight years she was the human rights director at Justice Now. Levi spent four years as Advocacy Director for the Women's Institute for Leadership for Human Rights, where she advocated for the human rights of women and girls in the United States, especially women of color. Prior to that, she was staff attorney at the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights...