Her caseload includes survivors of abuse who acted in self-defense or in defense of their children, as well as women forced or coerced to assist their abuser in committing a crime. Sometimes they are women diagnosed with postpartum depression.
White-Domain recently earned release for a woman sentenced to six years in prison for stealing items worth less than $300, arguing that the punishment was too severe when balanced against the harm of family separation.
Since getting funding last year the Women and Survivors Project has represented 30 clients in 15 clemency petitions, 14 administrative advocacy cases, four resentencing cases, one post-conviction case, and one appeal.So far, five women have been released. Collectively that has added up to about 30 years of incarceration saved, White-Domain said.
The Women and Survivors Project, believed to be a rare full-time practice dedicated these specific kinds of post-conviction cases, was built on the work of a small number of Chicago attorneys who three decades ago began working on such complicated cases pro bono, mentoring and training a younger generation along the way.
Their work, Byrne said, grew out of research on domestic violence and also from firsthand observations. Byrne watched how the criminal system failed to see self-defense from a female perspective, such as the effect ongoing battering has on a person’s state of mind and perception of danger.
In 2020, the Albert & Anne Mansfield Foundation awarded White-Domain a grant to continue at the Illinois Prison Project, the statewide advocacy organization where she currently works. The Women and Survivors Project remains small — she is the only full-time attorney — but the grant could provide leverage to secure more funding.