by Diana Block
The lack of services for women coming out of prison in California is dismal, so it is good to know that in New York City there is an agency with a variety of programs to help formerly incarcerated women. The Women’s Prison Association & Home (WPA)has been assisting women coming out of prison since 1844. According to its brochure, the mission of the WPA is to “provide programs through which women acquire life skills needed to end involvement in the criminal justice system and to make positive, healthy choices for themselves and their families.”
The WPA currently has several unique programs which are aimed at fulfilling this mission. The Sarah Powell Huntington House assists homeless women leaving prison or jail who seek to reunite with their children and rebuild their lives in the community. The House is a transitional residence where women can live for six to eighteen months. It is one means of addressing the housing opportunity disqualification that many former prisoners face and the many obstacles preventing formerly incarcerated mothers from reconnecting with their families WPA’s Transitional Services Unit helps HIV-positive and at-risk women reenter the community. In addition to discharge planning in prison or jail and a range of supportive services once women are released, the program offers HIV education services inside four facilities and at five probation offices, working in conjunction with peer-run programs at some of the prisons.
The Steps to Independence program helps former prisoners develop the skills they need to find housing and jobs, go back to school, manage their time and money and build relationships with their peers and family members. Former prisoners create their own schedule of workshops, classes, trainings and seminars to meet their individual goals working one-on-one with program advisors to choose a combination of educational, independent living, parenting and life enhancement classes.
In comparison, California’s lack of reentry services seems designed to perpetuate the revolving door and preserve California’s distinction of having the largest prison population in the country. As former prisoners come together to insist on support for full reintegration into community life, the WPA programs are an example of assistance that can make a difference.
For more information about their programs contact WPA, 110 Second Ave. NYC, NY 10003, 212-674-1163.