How It’s Unique

WPA recognizes that men and women take different paths to the criminal justice system.  They arrive to their involvement for different reasons and have diverse experiences and responses before, during, and after incarceration.  

WPA was 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, we have developed landmark programs, advocated for groundbreaking policies, and promoted forward-thinking strategies for responding to women in the criminal justice system for more than 170 years.

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 stands at the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement to ensure that women are included in the discussion and that their needs are reflected in policy reform efforts at the local, state, and federal level.

We do not believe in “one size fits all” strategies toward such reforms.  Instead, we utilize evidence-based, gender-specific tools designed to address the many circumstances that lead women into the criminal justice system.  In doing so, we successfully provide tailored services to women and their families before, during, after, and even instead of incarceration.

Key ways in which criminal justice-involved men and women differ*:

1. Community Risk

  • Women commit fewer violent crimes than men.
  • Women are less violent than men while in prison.
  • Women are less likely to return to prison and jail than men.

2. Pathways

  • Women are more likely than men to enter jail with a history of abuse or trauma, with an addiction, and/or with mental health diagnoses.  They are also more likely to have experienced poverty.

3. Practices of Incarceration & Intervention

  • Prison policies and procedures as well as assessment tools utilized to determine the appropriate interventions were primarily designed for men.

4. Criminogenic Risk

  • Risks that lead women to criminal justice involvement are different than those for men.  Depression, housing safety, and parental stress are all factors that are more likely to contribute to a woman’s criminal justice involvement than they are to a man’s.

5.  Transition to Community

  • Women have more needs reentering the community after prison.  They experience more poverty, lower employment rates, and have fewer safe housing options than men immediately after incarceration.

6.  Motherhood

  • Women are more likely to be the primary caregiver of their children before and after incarceration than men. 

*"10 Facts About Women in Jails" by Becki Ney for the American Jail Association.  

How WPA designs programs to address these differences:

Our gender-responsive services are designed to provide women at any point along the criminal justice continuum with coordinated support as they progress from basic survival to stabilization and, finally, to self-sufficiency. 

We primarily employ two gender-specific interventions to support these services:

1. The Women’s Risk and Needs Assessment (WRNA) is an evidence-based, gender-specific assessment tool used in the correctional community.  It is used to determine a woman’s likelihood of recidivating and it identifies the greatest risk factors in her life that lead her to commit crime.



Antisocial attitudes & peers

Mental health issues

Temperament & personality

Trauma & PTSD

Behavioral & CJ history

Parental stress & parenting skills


Substance abuse




Community stability (housing, finances)

2. Moving On is a gender-responsive cognitive behavioral intervention designed to help women mobilize and develop personal and social resources that mediate the impact of risk for future criminal behavior.  Grounded in social learning theory, relational theory and cognitive-behavioral practices, Moving On’s creation was based on extensive research into pathways to women’s criminality demonstrating that women are more likely than their male counterparts to have experienced serious physical or sexual abuse and trauma, to have chronic physical and mental health problems, and to be in exploitative or abusive relationships.  

Moving On is a strategy for working specifically with criminal justice-involved women whose principle goals are to: 

  • Develop personal strategies that support change efforts 
  • Build social capital (natural and professional supports) 
  • Enhance self-efficacy 

The program content is organized around four main themes: 

  • encouraging personal responsibility and enhancing motivation for change 
  • expanding connections and building healthy relationships 
  • skill enhancement, development, and maintenance 
  • relaxation and stress management skills

WPA’s Gender-Responsiveness in Practice:

“Most of what women need to operate safely in the community exists in the community.”

- Georgia Lerner, WPA Executive Director

"In WPA, I had a coach and partner for the journey to reunify with my children."
- Vivian, Former WPA Client
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