The incarceration of women and girls
is a public health crisis. 

Prisons represent the ultimate failure of our society - a place where women land as a result of abuse, poverty and marginalization.
Management Team
Dr. April Bernard
Senior Associate, Innovation &
Evidence-based Practices
Alyssa Benedict, MPH
Co-Founder & Co-Director
Deanne Benos
Co-Founder & Co-Director
Monica Cosby
Lead Community Organizer
Celia Colón
Margaret Burke
Senior Advisor, 
Corrections Training & TA
​Senior Advisor, Community Outreach & Special Projects
Carmen Rodriguez
Senior Advisor, Community Corrections Training & TA
Our Story

The Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) was founded after a team of passionate leaders were convened by the American Probation & Parole Association (APPA) at a 2014 National Institute dedicated to advancing a dialogue on the impact of trauma among justice-involved populations - particularly regarding the disproportionate impact of sexual assault and domestic violence on the pathways of women and girls.

The dialogue continued beyond the conference, and ultimately evolved into an exciting collaboration among thought leaders seeking opportunities to confront the skyrocketing incarceration rates among women and girls, and build a new narrative for change through restorative, gender responsive strategies designed to address their unique risks, strengths, needs and pathways.

That opportunity was realized with the launch of The Women's Justice Initiative (WJI) in Illinois, a project that is transforming the experiences of women and staff at one of the largest women's prison and parole systems in the nation into a scalable, systems change model for gender responsive justice reform.

Based in Chicago, the state-level Initiative is now in the process of transitioning into the national Women's Justice Institute that will provide support to a collaboration of national, state and local jurisdictions.  The work is housed at Smart Policy Works (formerly Health & Disability Advocates), a social innovator leading systems change solutions for healthcare, economic security and personal dignity across the nation. 

WJI also operates dynamic and cutting-edge advocacy and technical assistance projects with our key founding partners, including Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC). Serving as the justice system lead of the UIC Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center (GLATTC), TASC supports staff training and development on U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services SAMHSA priority areas, including best practices for addressing trauma, substance abuse and mental health among high-risk populations  throughout a nine-state Midwest Region. 

The WJI is supported by a growing Advisory Networkof women leaders with lived experiences throughout the justice system and other advocates, experts, providers, academics justice system leaders that share the WJI's goals of promoting decarcaration, gender responsive practices and restoration. The members of this network offer their voices, ideas and expertise on ways to address these challenges innovatively, restoratively and sustainably.