The Skylark Project
The Skylark Project offers comprehensive services to incarcerated victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, a population with a high incidence of trauma and few treatment resources. Approximately 60% of female prisoners nationally experienced domestic violence or sexual assault at some point in their lives, and administrators at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) estimate that percentage is even higher for female prisoners here in Iowa.
ICADV believes it is imperative to recognize and serve this population. The crimes committed by many incarcerated survivors are linked directly and causally to their experiences as victims of domestic and sexual violence; therefore, the Skylark Project formed to highlight and address the broad and underserved needs of survivors of domestic violence in Iowa’s prison system.
The cornerstone of the Skylark Project is commutation assistance. The project carefully screens and reviews cases to select only those where the causal link between domestic violence and the crime is clear. The women selected receive intensive support and assistance in drafting their commutation applications. We currently serve ten commutation assistance clients – less than 0.02% of the ICIW population.
The commutation candidates we select represent the egregious miscarriages of justice that occur when domestic violence is not a mitigating factor in the criminal justice system. In these cases the crimes committed are directly related to the abuse the women suffered, yet because of racism, poverty, youth, and outdated laws, these clients did not receive adequate counsel or review by the criminal justice system.
Stage 1: Self-Reporting Survey
Stage 2: History of Abuse Interview, approx. 50 yes or no questions
Stage 3: Face-to-Face Interviews with ICADV Staff
Preparing to re-enter a community can be very difficult for any person, but especially for battered women. ICADV staff is happy to meet with women about to be released to create plans for re-entry and identify community resources.
Because the majority of women in prison will someday re-enter the community, we provide services to empower women to live safely and independently, without turning to crime or unhealthy relationships. Skylark Project staff facilitate classes on healthy ways to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and past traumas. With our support, fourteen women who completed that class won scholarships funded by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Allstate Foundation, and they began taking college courses. When individual survivors prepare to return to their communities, the Skylark Project offers re-entry safety planning to help women through the vulnerable period of transition. With these skills and support, the Skylark Project has helped many women move beyond their traumatic pasts and become success stories.
Seeking Safety is a present-focused therapy to help people attain safety from trauma/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. The treatment is available as a book, providing both client handouts and guidance for clinicians.
Healthy Relationship Classes
In the summer of 2009 the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) began offering healthy relationship classes at the Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls’ State Training School in Toledo, IA. Classes are once a week for six weeks, facilitated by college aged students, and geared towards teens (12-17). Topics include: Defining Healthy Relationships, Setting Boundaries, Assertive Communication, Asking for Help, Owning your Sexual Power, and Breaking Up.If you are interested in learning more about ICADV’s Healthy Relationship curriculum or facilitating a class, please contact Liz Albright Battles or Tess Cody.
There are several ways to get involved with Skylark. For example, you can volunteer your time to teach a class at the prison. You can also write letters of support or petitions for those seeking commutation assistance. If you are interested in getting involved contact the Skylark Project Director,
Liz Albright Battles at 515-244-8028.