The Justice Project

Written by Sr. Jeanne Christensen, RSM; based on information from Kris Wade, founder and executive director, and Sr. Donna Ryan, RSM.

The Justice Project is a peer-based nonprofit human rights organization, whose mission is to provide criminal justice/social service advocacy and navigational learning for women in poverty. These women suffer from a multitude of challenges including homelessness, prostitution, sexual exploitation, mental illness, and domestic violence.

While many organizations offer a variety of worthy services, there are still women who fall through the cracks; women with whom other providers have had limited success or have given up on.  These women are often fearful, confused, and traumatized by system processes, particularly within the criminal justice system. Mental illness, addictions, and lack of education make it difficult for them to comprehend how to navigate through what they perceive as complicated system processes. The Justice Project encourages the women to become responsible and accountable by addressing their own barriers to success, seeking their own solutions to system issues, and dissolving obstacles preventing their independence.

The short term goal is for women to be encouraged to resolve criminal justice / social service systems issues, and to obtain just, equitable, and workable solutions to such issues. The goal is for each woman to be educated about the systems involved, to be empowered by such knowledge, and to be able to move forward without the hindrance of legal or other system entanglements. This is accomplished by partnering with the woman to determine which issues must be resolved, devising a workable action plan to address the issues, gathering the necessary documents, tickets, reports, or other information, educating the woman on system requirements, protocols, procedures and etiquette, and navigating her through the entire process.

The long term goals include not only the restoration and empowerment of the women, but also sensitization through education of system actors (judges, police, prosecutors, social service providers) regarding this challenged population. This lays a foundation for positive system changes, reducing recidivism, and ultimately benefiting individual women and the community. It is critical that system actors recognize these women as victims who need to be rewarded for their willingness to become accountable, responsible partners in the process. Timelines are very individualized, depending on how complicated the problems are, what systems are involved, the schedules of courts and other providers, and on the woman’s level of functioning.

The Justice Project director is a survivor who has struggled with the same issues faced by the women, including prostitution, domestic violence, poverty, and homelessness. The Justice Project has a weekly outreach program and space called the Willow Tree, which occurs during the St. James Place meal program. Here women can share a meal together, share information on services, discuss criminal justice problems, and find comfort in the companionship of others like themselves.  Women are always welcome at The Willow Tree which meets from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m.  The address is 3936 Troost, KCMO.

The Willow Tree provides peer support by women who, with Justice Project help, have overcome legal and other system obstacles. One woman who lifted herself out of homelessness, addiction, prostitution, and criminal charges is now a board member. Success can be measured by the reduction in arrests, the completion of probation/parole requirements, the resolution of legal cases, and the obtaining of services (housing, food stamps, and counseling) that help build the foundation for independence.

To learn more, volunteer with or refer persons to the Willow Tree, contact 816-304-7913.

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