Women's Justice Initiative (WJI) 

Building Gender Responsive Justice Systems for Women & Girls

In the News...


Top Prison Officials & Formerly Incarcerated Women Join Forces to Launch National Model Women’s Prison/Parole Reform Law

In Response to “Me Too” Movement, IDOC Unveils Unprecedented New Mission Statement  with WJI Calling for “Decriminalization of Survivorship"


Image by the talented Otto Steininger & Licensing Generously Donated with Permission from Netflix and the New York Times paid advertisement entitled​​​​:   "Women Inmates Separate but Not Equa l."

Our Work

  1. Advocate
    To Advocate for Gender Responsive, Trauma-Informed Justice Systems for Women and Girls by building awareness of their unique pathways and challenges related to histories of sexual and domestic abuse, as well as the most effective strategies for addressing them.
  2. Build
    To identify strategies that help law enforcement and corrections leaders to Build sustainable, gender responsive systems that adhere to evidence-based practices throughout the justice continuum -- including schools, arrest, probation, parole, detention, jail and prison.
  3. Balance
    To fight for policies and practices that ensure the scales of justice are truly Balanced by recognizing the unique pathways of women and girls disproportionately impacted by histories of sexual and domestic abuse, as well as the need to preserve and strengthen their families.

The Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) works to promote de-carceration of women and girls by bridging critical gaps between policy and practice regarding the manner that their unique risks, assets and needs are addressed throughout the criminal justice system.  

We  build public awareness regarding the unique criminal justice pathways of women and girls, which are disproportionately paved by histories of sexual/domestic abuse and trauma; and ways that trauma-informed, evidence-base practices can more effectively and humanely address their challenges.  

We grow sustainable systems change strategies, technical assistance packages and work to build the capacity of communities to deliver gender repsonsive services by cultivating partnerships and a meaningful dialogue among corrections officials, law enforcement leaders, elected officials, policymakers, social service providers, academics, advocates, stakeholders and those women and girls directly impacted by the system.      
Our Friends & Supporters 

The American Probation & Parole Association (APPA), Committee on Justice Involved Women & Girls

Prison Reform International (PRI)
Test400K Foundation

Health & Disability Advocates (HDA)

Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW)

Conant Family Foundation

Polk Bros Foundation 

The John Howard Association (JHA)

The Illinois Justice Project

Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA):  Chicago Legal Aid for Incarcerated Mothers
(CLAIM) & Visible Voices

Wexford Health Sources

WestCare Foundation

New Moms, Inc.

Strengthening Chicago's Youth

The Ounce of Prevention Fund

Illinois Department of Corrections

National Resource Center for Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW)

National Institute of Corrections (NIC)

CORE Associates, LLC

TASC & the UIC Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center (GLATTC)

NAMI Chicago

A Safe Haven (ASH)

UIC Center on Public Safety & Justice

​Orbis Partners

UCAN Chicago

Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

Chicago Urban League


Health & Medicine Research Group

The Pierce Family Foundation

National Girl's Initiative (NGI) Illinois "Girls at Risk" Working Group (IDHHS) 

The 5 CORE Practice Areas of Gender Responsiveness

(Directly excerpted from "The Five CORE Practice Areas of Gender Responsiveness" by Alyssa Benedict, MPH, Executive Director of CORE Associates and Federal Partner of the National Resource Center on Justice-Involved Women)

    Relationship-based programs/services are rooted in relational-cultural theory and relational psychology. They acknowledge the centrality of relationships in females’ lives, including the influence connections and disconnections have on females’ lives and the critical role that connection can play in females’ personal and relational growth and success.
    Strengths-based programs and services adopt an intentional movement away from a deficit approach with justice-involved women and girls, and, instead: Focus on strengths, talents and assets; Recast “negative” behaviors as survival behaviors; Give them healthy power and control; Allow them to impact programming; and Weave a strengths-based perspective through all aspects of service delivery.
    Trauma-informed programs and services incorporate knowledge about violence against females and the impact of trauma, thereby increasing their effectiveness. Such programs take trauma into account by: Avoiding triggering trauma reactions and/or traumatizing the individual; Adjusting the behavior of staff and the organization to support each individual’s coping capacity; and Allowing survivors to manage their trauma symptoms successfully so that they are able to access, retain, and benefit from services.
"Being gender responsive means uniting and applying five areas of practice at every level of service delivery from intake, to service planning to aftercare.

Often discussed as separate areas of implementation, all of these areas must be considered when enhancing programs and services for justice-involved women and girls. 

Females’ past experiences, including any trauma they may have survived, as well as their ethnic and cultural identity, are very real parts of who they are."

Alyssa Benedict, MPH
​CORE Associates
    Culturally competent programs and services: Have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally; Ensure that practitioners have the capacity to: 1) Value diversity; 2) Conduct self evaluation; 3) Manage the dynamics of difference; 4) Acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge; and 5) Adapt to the diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve; and Incorporate the above in all aspects of policy-making administration, practice and service delivery, and systematically involve key stakeholders and communities.
    Holistic programs/services acknowledge the larger context of females’ lives, and, in turn, the larger context of females’ thoughts, feelings, behaviors and decision-making. This means that practitioners understand pathways theory as well as the unique causes and correlates of female behavior. Holistic programs are also oriented toward empowerment and advocacy.
5.1 million children have experienced the incarceration of a parent in the United States

Correctional practices that “facilitate and strengthen family connections during incarceration” can “reduce the strain of parental separation, reduce recidivism rates, and increase the likelihood of successful re-entry,” according to a 2005 report by the Re-Entry Policy Council.

Image by the talented Otto Steininger & Licensing Generously Donated with Permission from Netflix and the New York Times paid advertisement entitled:   "Women Inmates Separate but Not Equal."