For women who have been released from incarceration, there are many pieces – small and big – with which Benedict Center staffers help. (Photo provided by the Benedict Center)

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For roughly 50 years, the Benedict Center has assisted women involved in the criminal justice system.

Many of their needs are similar, and the center works with all women, including anyone who identifies as a woman, at any stage in the system, said Jeanne Geraci, executive director of the Benedict Center.

These stages include: pre-arrest; pre-trial; incarceration; reentry; probation; and parole.

Incarceration rates increase

Recent data from The Sentencing Project reveals the number of women who are now incarcerated is six times higher than it was in 1980.

But this increase has not been evenly distributed among races and ethnicities.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2019, there were over 50% more Black women and roughly 27% more Latinas incarcerated in a state or federal prison than white women.

Julia May (left), bridge case manager, and Lynette Zarcone, certified peer specialist, at the headquarters of the Benedict Center, located in the North Side. (Photo provided by Benedict Center)

Center focuses on diversion

The Benedict Center, headquartered at the North Side, focuses on diversion and deferred prosecution agreements, or DPAs.

DPAs are an option in which women can avoid being criminally charged or can have charges dropped by participating in a substance abuse and/or mental health treatment program, EJ Miecielica, counselor at the Benedict Center, said.

Benedict Center staffers also provide the same counseling for women who have been released from incarceration.

Options for women in custody

Those in custody at the Milwaukee County Community Reintegration Center, formerly known as the House of Corrections, can take classes, attend workshops and receive counseling organized and provided by the Benedict Center.

Classes and workshops are varied, Julia May, bridge case manager at the Benedict Center, said.

Women can learn about the basics of the criminal justice system, employment and how to develop better coping skills, among other topics.

Assisting women who are not in custody

For women who have been released from incarceration, there are many pieces – small and big – with which staff can also help, May said.

Case managers assist with traveling to doctor’s appointments, getting Social Security cards and finding housing.

The staff also does street outreach to women engaged in the sex trade, and the Benedict Center runs two drop-in centers – one on the North Side and one on the South Side – where these women can access food, beds and showers. Case management and counseling are also available.

“Most women we work with are also victims and survivors of violent crime,” Geraci said.

The trauma – and lack of safety – women have experienced makes them feel less comfortable around men, so providing spaces and programs exclusively for women makes a big difference, May said.

Why gender-based services are vital

A basic initial step in serving women in the system is to recognize that “ … while the justice system isn’t built well for anybody,” Geraci said, “it especially has overlooked the unique and specific needs of women.”

For example, women face challenges trying to get back into the workforce after incarceration.

“They may find that a lot of the entry level jobs are traditionally held by men, like construction jobs,” May said.

In addition, women are most often responsible for child care as well as general caretaking within families.

“Periods of incarceration are incredibly disruptive for the females that are taking care of not only their kids, but also sometimes their parents or their grandparents,” May said.

“So, if a woman is incarcerated for whatever reason, that does become a big stress for not only them but their entire family.”

For more information

People who are interested in learning more about what is available at the Benedict Center can call 414-347-1774 or email