Kelly Savage-Rodriguez shares her powerful story with The Guardian

May 10, 2024

TW: Domestic violence and child abuse/murder.

“In 1995, on the day before Kelly Savage-Rodriguez [Leading with Conviction™ 2024 participant] planned to flee her abusive husband, she ran some final errands while her children, ages three and one, napped. She hoped to take them on the early morning Amtrak from Porterville, California, to Los Angeles and stay with her brother, but when she returned, she said, she found that her husband had beaten and killed her three-year-old son, Justin. She called 911. The police arrested her along with her husband.

Survivors who are criminally charged often do not have their history of abuse taken into account …

Kelly Savage-Rodriguez with her son Justin

“Savage-Rodriguez was jailed as she awaited trial, and said her lawyer did not have training in advocating for clients who suffered domestic violence. The judge used her history of abuse against her, she said, and said she was equally at fault for her son’s death under California’s ‘failure to protect’ charges that can criminalize the non-abusive parent in a domestic violence case because she had not fled. She was later convicted and sentenced to life without parole, same as her abuser.

“In the United States, survivors who are criminally charged often do not have their history of abuse taken into account during court to help judges and juries understand the circumstances, and they can face scrutiny or disbelief when they do share their stories.

“‘It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, it didn’t matter how much I was trying,’ said Savage-Rodriguez, who was released in 2018 following a pardon and is now a coordinator for California Coalition for Women Prisoners. ‘None of it mattered. They wanted a conviction and that’s all that they were concerned with.’

“Across the country, advocates are pushing for sentencing reforms that would provide a more trauma-informed approach to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. In the past five years, lawmakers in New York, Louisiana, Georgia, Virginia and Wyoming have passed legislation to vacate the sentences of survivors.

“Now, organizers in California, where Savage-Rodriguez is from and where many other survivors are still incarcerated, are mobilizing for sentencing reform. Since 2021, the state already mandates courts to consider the experiences of survivors who have been convicted of non-violent crime. But a new bill championed by assembly member Mia Bonta would go much further, allowing all abuse survivors to petition the court to vacate their arrests, convictions or adjudications, and also order law enforcement and courts to seal records related to the arrest and offense.”

Read the full story at

Your donation to JLUSA empowers directly impacted people.

Thank you so much for supporting our mission here at JLUSA! Your donation helps to support our network of leaders working to dismantle oppressive systems and uplift people and families impacted by mass incarceration across the country.

All charitable donations made to JLUSA are fully tax deductible, as allowable by the IRS.