Photo of Rachel White-Domain

Rachel White-Domain

  • Hosted by Illinois Prison Project
  • Sponsored by Albert & Anne Mansfield Foundation
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school DePaul University College of Law
  • Issue area Domestic Violence
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Rachel provided direct representation to incarcerated gender-based violence survivors whose crimes were related to surviving abuse in post-conviction, commutation, and resentencing cases.

A 2010 study found that 98% of people in Illinois’s women’s prisons have been physically abused. For many of these survivors, victimization is linked to criminalization, including in cases of self-defense. However, survivors who do not fit into the narrow archetype of the “true victim” are frequently not believed and are convicted and harshly sentenced. In addition to self-defense cases, many incarcerated survivors were forced to participate in their abusers’ crimes and then convicted under Illinois accountability laws, which provide that an accessory to a crime receives the same sentence as the principal. However, access to legal assistance in post-conviction and commutation cases is almost nonexistent. This project worked to fill that gap.

Fellowship Highlights

During the Fellowship period, Rachel:

  • Represented 24 incarcerated gender-based violence survivors in 26 post-conviction, resentencing, and commutation cases; provided advice or brief legal services to 88 survivors and other individuals
  • Provided numerous consultations to attorneys and organizers in Illinois and across the country  
  • Following the COVID-19 pandemic, advocated for the release of medically vulnerable people
  • Assisted in bringing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated people at risk due to COVID-19 
  • Compiled data on 50+ resentencing cases to illustrate gaps in current laws providing avenues for relief   
  • Compiled data on 340+ murder cases to map gender-specific incarceration disparities 

Next Steps

Rachel’s project became a permanent program of Illinois Prison Project (IPP). IPP’s Women & Survivors Project will continue to provide direct representation to gender-based violence survivors in post-conviction, resentencing, and commutation cases, as well as to incarcerated women in cases involving issues that disproportionately impact women such as post-partum psychosis.

Media

Illinois Prison Project Website

New legal clinic concentrates on cases of women languishing in the system for crimes against alleged abusers

Paula Aiardo, convicted in connection with murder of disabled woman, hoping for leniency: ‘I cannot undo my many wrongs’

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