At noon today, University students and faculty will stand on the steps of the state Capitol Building demanding clemency for the alleged injustice of hundreds of battered women imprisoned for acting in self-defense against their abusers.
The Michigan Battered Women’s Clemency Project, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the civil rights of battered women in the state of Michigan since 1991, is organizing the rally. The group acts as a representative for women who it says acted in self-defense or in the defense of their children against an abusive partner. The Clemency Project coordinates the event annually, and this year the group is reacting to what its members consider Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s slow response in redressing the alleged wrongful convictions.
On behalf of the inmates, this year the group is resubmitting 20 petitions requesting clemency that have sat on Granholm’s desk for the past two years.
“We’re getting very frustrated with Gov. Granholm because she professes to be compassionate about this issue but does nothing,” said Carol Jacobsen, president of the Clemency Project and a University professor of art and women’s studies. “Meanwhile, these women are rotting in prison.”
Jacobsen has created nearly a dozen films narrated by former battered women inmates. The films document their lives while critiquing the justice system that failed them, she said. As a self-proclaimed feminist, filmmaker and artist who has been studying all-female prisons for the past 20 years, Jacobsen said she is determined to support these women until their rights are acknowledged.
“We intend to keep the pressure on (Granholm) until she acts,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen teaches a course, cross-listed in the women’s studies department and the School of Art and Design, entitled “Bodies in the World: Representing Human Rights.” A number of Jacobsen’s students are participating in the rally and were recently asked to create a project that would reflect the lack of compassion in rectifying this issue. On Wednesday at noon, University students performed a dramatization depicting the struggle of battered women in an effort to publicize the rally and draw attention to the situation.
“Law enforcement isn’t doing anything to fix (the problem), the government isn’t doing anything to fix it, so we need to do something,” Art and Design junior Sara Burke said. “It’s something that we have the power to take care of, and therefore, we should take care of it.”
In addition to participating in the rally, the students will perform their dramatization before the rally, supplemented by monologues from each character.
“I think we all hope that Jennifer Granholm will finally do something with the petitions and grant clemency for these women who have been serving time for something that they should never have been convicted for in the first place.” Art and Design senior Anne Nechal said.
Giving a Voice, the two-year-old campus branch of the clemency project, assists in raising awareness for the project and will also participate in the rally.
In addition to students and faculty from the University, friends and family of the inmates will speak on their behalf, while other audience members will read summaries of the experiences of various women who have been incarcerated.
Alycia Welch, co-founder of Giving a Voice, said Granholm was not acting on their request for clemency for a number of political reasons.
“The rally will put more pressure on Gov. Granholm and the Legislature to really bring the focus to these women and not just a legal decision,” she said.
Named the worst in the nation by Amnesty International, the Michigan women’s prisons also face a struggle of equality for all inmates, facing accusations of medical neglect, sexual assault and retaliation by guards.