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Coordinating Care from Detention to Release to the Community: The Women’s Project

By Carolann Murphy, PA


Even in a strong economy, finding and maintaining employment is difficult for those living with disability, and making that transition is complicated further by poverty, mental illness, and incarceration. Women dealing with these issues need comprehensive and consistent services in order to achieve personal freedom, meaningful work, and financial independence while meeting their personal goals and family responsibilities.

The Women’s Project provides an alternative to pretrial detention for women who cannot afford monetary bail. Part of a partnership of Wildcat Services Corporation, an agency of The FEDCAP Group (FEDCAP), defenders and district attorneys, The Women’s Project aims to reduce the number of women being held pretrial, supporting them as they return to court and participate in their own defense.  The Women’s Project focuses on high-needs women detained on Rikers Island in New York City, helping them manage the complexities of the justice system, re-enter their communities and join or rejoin the workplace. Women with special needs are referred to The Women’s Project by their defense attorneys. Care coordination begins during their detention and continues after their release.

The Women’s Project is directed by founder Valentina Morales, FEDCAP’s senior director of Justice Initiatives. “Having strong relationships with stakeholders in the criminal legal system and the support of many community organizations enables The Women’s Project to provide the culturally competent and person-centered services these women need,” explained Morales. “Our integrated care team is small and mobile, with service provision led by well-trained licensed social workers who provide a continuous and consistent connection to women from detention through stability in the community – a model that is fundamental to the successes achieved by The Women’s Project,” she said.

The Women’s Project connects participants to employment services provided through FEDCAP’s specialized programs, which include job training and placement. These services are part of The Women’s Project’s holistic program that includes benefits assistance, advocacy, support in entering transitional housing, access to medical care, training in self-advocacy and financial literacy, and clinical support for every court appearance. “For women with pending court cases, progress toward economic stability can be especially challenging,” Morales said. “The collateral consequences of arrest and detention often include loss of housing, disconnection from care and resources, family separation, job loss, or prolonged absence from employment or training opportunities. Additionally, more than half of the women in our community have significant mental health needs and nearly 98% report a past history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.” she relates. “Holistic support services and advocacy can make a significant difference in overcoming these barriers to employment and successful reintegration.”

The spread of COVID-19 brings new challenges to supporting women released from local jails and upstate prisons. Despite the disruptions, The Women’s Project continues to provide ongoing support to its community members leaving Rikers Island. “New York City is practically under siege and changing rapidly,” she observed. “Maintaining a strong connection to women who have been released, those detained pre-trial and those in upstate correctional facilities through The Women’s Project is now more important than ever.”

Based on the April 3, 2020 National Trends in Disability Employment report.