Grant Spotlights: Center for Women in Transition

cwit

Women of CWIT at their Beautiful Restorations Gala this spring. At the event, the CSJs were honored with the Legacy Award for their 20 years of support of the organization.  

Each year, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet award funds to programs serving women and children in the St. Louis metro area through the Feuerbacher Grant Program. The program was established through a bequest from Father Ed Feuerbacher and, since its inception in 2005, the program has supported 49 organizations that are acquainted with a CSJ sister or associate and consistent with CSJ values.

In this grant spotlight, we feature Center for Women in Transition, a 2017 recipient of a Feuerbacher Grant.

By Abby Blaes, Communications intern

The Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) operates under the principles of restorative justice.  CWIT assists  women in the criminal justice system in making successful transitions to their families and communities.  Their programs include offering safe housing, case management, access to health care and community support. Laura Toledo, executive director for the Center for Women in Transition, answered some questions about CWIT and the grant money they received.

Q: How has the grant money you received been used or how will it be used?

Laura Toledo: The Center provides its clients with the all the basic necessities for living, including transportation and food assistance, as well as help to cover the cost of medical, dental, and mental health care. Additionally, the Center provides household supplies and toiletries for clients. Approximately 180 women each year receive basic needs assistance. The funding from CSJ will be used to meet these basic needs of clients, allowing them time to focus on stabilizing their lives and meeting their individualized goals.

Q: How have the people you’ve served, the women and their families, responded to your organization and your programs?

LT: Over the Center’s 20 years in existence, it has developed a reputation in the prisons and jails for being a safe and supportive reentry program, and we receive many more applications for services than we can accommodate.  For those women who are accepted into our Mentoring and Advocacy program, the stress relief is visible on their faces when they meet their case management team and are shown their apartment, where they can live for up to one year.  Their satisfaction over time with the program depends in large part on their personal commitments to change, and when they make that commitment, we see transformed women and families.  Many of our clients have been mandated to participate in CWIT programming, which sometimes results in initial resistance to Center staff and/or programming.

However, over time even those mandated to our program take advantage of the resources we provide, and their successes are in line with non-mandated participants.  One measure of success is recidivism:  our rates are consistently under 10% for women in our program, and over the past four years, the recidivism rate has been less than 4% across all core programs.  This contrasts to a state-wide average of approximately 20% one year after release from a state prison.  Clients frequently express gratitude for their volunteer mentors, who provide encouragement and support along the client’s journey, and for the support offered by Center staff. Many former clients express that they would not be in their current positions if it weren’t for the help of the Center.

Q: How has your organization grown over the years and how is it growing today?

LT: The Center for Women in Transition was founded in November 1997 after a group of religious sisters and lay women working in criminal justice ministries met with a group of women who had been incarcerated to identify the basic causes of recidivism.  They determined that the major barriers hindering successful reentry were: (1) a lack of availability of safe, affordable housing; (2) a lack of knowledge and access to services such food and transportation assistance, drug treatment, and employment readiness and placement; (3) a lack of encouragement and support to stay focused on positive goals; and (4) a lack of understanding of their crimes and the harm caused.   As a result of these meetings, the Center for Women in Transition was established to provide recently incarcerated women with the necessary tools to establish healthy lives.

The Center began as a mentoring program, with a strong focus on restorative justice.  Over time, it has grown to be the largest provider of wrap-around reentry services for women in the St. Louis area.  The Center now operates two transitional housing units that together houses 40 women at a time.  All Center clients receive basic needs assistance, case management, life skills and employment assistance, and referrals to a myriad of community services. The Center has recently launched an aftercare program to provide ongoing case management and basic needs assistance to women leaving its housing.  Since its inception nearly twenty years ago, the Center has assisted over 2,000 women in and around the St. Louis metropolitan area.  The Center continues to grow as an agency and is currently taking the necessary steps to become a trauma informed organization, strengthen its vocational services, and complete an outside evaluation. The Center is also increasing its commitment to diversion, in part by joining a collaboration with St. Louis County jail, funded through the MacArthur Foundation, to reduce over-reliance on jails.

Q: Why do you feel your organization is important today?

LT: Sadly, women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in Missouri and nationwide, so the Center’s services are more critical than ever.  Women continue to face significant barriers upon release that often lead to cycles of reincarceration, family separation, etc.  Recidivism in the state of Missouri for female offenders is on average 35.5% over the three years following release. The St. Louis Metropolitan area has limited resources to keep pace with the number of returning citizens, even while it is increasingly aware of the importance of providing resources to this population. The Center for Women in Transition has a long track record of addressing the myriad of needs of formerly incarcerated women, including the need for safe and affordable housing, educational and/or employment assistance, drug treatment services, medical and mental health care, food, transportation, and emotional support.

The Center serves high-needs women who often require treatment to address medical and mental health issues. More than 85% of the women in the program have drug and/or alcohol addictions, and 75% have mental health issues. Instances of trauma are extremely prevalent among female ex-offenders. The challenges women face because of these traumas are vast and varied. The Center works to support clients through their healing processes, in order to decrease the impact of trauma on their behaviors and mental health, and to increase women’s capabilities to care for themselves and their families.  The Center continues to serve as a critical resource for the St. Louis area.   With increasing interest from all sectors in criminal justice reform, the Center offers the wisdom of twenty years of serving women, and the Center aims to be an active participant in reform efforts.

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