History & Mission

A History of Firsts

In 1845, WPA became the nation’s first organization dedicated solely to working with criminal justice-involved women and their families. 

Starting with the first halfway house for women, WPA has developed landmark programs, advocated for groundbreaking policies, and promoted forward-thinking strategies for responding to women in the criminal justice system. 

While the causes of criminal justice involvement have changed little, our opportunities to intervene have been shaped by our expanding knowledge, experience, and evidence of what works. 

WPA proudly continues the tradition of partnering with women to build better lives and safer tomorrows in a world where fewer women are involved in the criminal justice system. 

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"In a lot of ways, things are the same. We still work with women to make sure that the worst act they ever committed is not the one thing that defines them." 

Watch the video below to hear more from WPA's Executive Director, Georgia Lerner, on what continues to define WPA after 170 years of service to women and families. 

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Since our founding, WPA has promoted the use of holistic, community-based responses to crime. Our program services make it possible for women to obtain work, housing, and health care; to rebuild their families; and to participate fully in civic life.

A Walk Through Time

Jan 1845:
Precursor of WPA—Female Department of Prison Association of NY—is founded

Hopper Home for Criminal Justice-Involved Women opens

WPA is chartered

Novelist, Catherine Sedgewick concludes her 15-year post as the first President of WPA and champion for WPA’s clients, who are, in her words, “spurned and deserted for vices that, shame to the injustice of the world!, do not exclude men from even (so-called) good society.”

Police Matrons Bill is signed into law, after decades of ceaseless lobbying by Abigail Hopper Gibbons, to address rampant abuse of female inmates by male officers. It requires that police matrons be on duty at night when women are arrested and that matrons conduct searches of women.

Early 1900s:
WPA’s mission includes both prison outreach and grassroots lobbying

WPA becomes one of the first integrated social service agencies in New York when it hires a black social worker. WPA also helps sponsor the salary of a black social worker in the Women’s Court.

WPA receives its first governmental funding

Sarah Powell Huntington, WPA Board Director and great-great-niece of Abigail Hopper Gibbons, writes, “We note a growing appreciation in the community of the need for social rehabilitation of offenders . . . more probation instead of incarceration, more attention to adjustment before and after discharge . . . ” She serves on the WPA Board of Directors for 70 years.

Hopper Home becomes a federal work release facility (until 1990)

Early 1990s:
Women become the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the U.S.

WPA creates a range of services, responsive to the diverse and interconnected needs of its clients

WPA renovates Hopper Home as a residential alternative to incarceration (ATI) program

WPA opens the Sarah Powell Huntington House, where criminal justice-involved women can reunify with their children

WPA develops HIV education, discharge planning and case management services

WPA develops services to help all criminal justice-involved women move successfully from incarceration to the community

WPA publishes the Rights and Responsibilities of Incarcerated Parents, which became the basis for the Incarcerated Mother’s Law Project to aid incarcerated mothers with visitation and family court issues

WPA establishes the Brooklyn Community Office (BCO) to provide intensive case management for families whose substance abuse puts their children at risk of abuse and/or neglect

WPA begins providing discharge planning services at Rikers Island

WPA begins operating WomenCare to provide mentoring services to women leaving the prison systems

WPA and Housing + Solutions open Sunflower House, an affordable, self-governed permanent sober residence for employed former prisoners

WPA founds the Institute on Women & Criminal Justice to create a national conversation on the impact of criminal justice involvement on women, families and communities.

Brooklyn Community Office expands its services to include case management, employment readiness and job placement services for criminal justice-involved women living in several Brooklyn neighborhoods

WPA begins offering harm reduction and relapse prevention services for criminal justice-involved women.

WPA implements the Parent-Child Home Program, to improve early literacy skills, increase school readiness and to strengthen the parent-child bond.

WPA expands the WomenCare mentoring program, and begins matching women incarcerated at Rikers Island with community-based, volunteer mentors.

WPA launches JusticeHome, the first program of its kind in New York.  JusticeHome is a community-based alternative to incarceration program that engages women facing felon charges and a minimum of four years prison time.  Women partner with WPA's JusticeHome program while remaining in their community and addressing the root causes of their CJ-involvement.

"WPA provided an environment where I could achieve my goals."
- Jennifer, Former WPA client
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