Peer Led Community Support: Redefining Diversion and Reentry with Women


Tuesday, February 27, 2024
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Session Type: Workshop

Through a dynamic partnership with the Women’s Justice Institute, the state of Illinois is exploring population reduction strategies across its women’s prisons, including early release opportunities. At the same time, in 2023, Illinois became the first state to end cash bail, rendering women’s pretrial services and reentry programs more critical than ever before. This session will explore how the Women’s Justice Institute partnered with one of the nation’s largest health systems to implement a peer-led women’s diversion and reentry initiative that supports women returning from prison and has proven to be a powerful tool for systems diversion.


Alyssa Benedict
Executive Director, CORE Associates, LLC

Alyssa Benedict has over 20 years of experience in justice and behavioral health and specializes in the design and implementation of gender responsive, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive policies and practices. She is the founder of CORE Associates, and provides training and technical assistance to government, private and non-profit organizations. Alyssa has served as a consultant and faculty member on various state and federal initiatives, and has also authored and co-authored various publications, models and tools designed to support practitioners, administrators and policy makers in their efforts to implement gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches, and improve outcomes among women, girls, and staff throughout the justice continuum. These include comprehensive staff training curricula, organizational assessments designed to advance implementation of gender responsive and trauma-informed policies, and model approaches to building cultures of resilience and motivation. Alyssa has a sub-specialty in the neurobiology and ecology of trauma and resilience and co-authored Creating Regulation and Resilience (CR/2™), a gender responsive and trauma-informed staff communication model. She is co-chair of the APPA Women and Girls Committee, a founding partner of the National Resource Center for Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW), and co-founder of The Women’s Justice Institute (WJI).

Deanne Benos
Co-Founder, The Women's Justice Institute (WJI), The Women's Justice Institute (WJI)

Deanne Benos is Co-Founder and Director of The Women’s Justice Institute (WJI), a Chicago-based, national “think and do tank” building transformational justice across sectors with-and-for system-impacted women with the goal of ending women’s mass incarceration. She is the co-author of the WJI’s groundbreaking report on ending women’s mass incarceration, “Redefining the Narrative;” and the Executive Producer and Director of the report’s powerful public awareness campaign video that confronts the deeply gendered false narratives that uniquely confront impacted women. Previously, as the first woman in history appointed Assistant Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), she championed nationally-recognized prison and parole reform initiatives designed to reduce recidivism and mass incarceration, including “Moms & Babies,” one of the nation’s first prison nurseries of its kind designed to protect mother-child bonding and that touted a nearly zero percent recidivism rate on its 10th anniversary; and the national model Sheridan Drug Treatment Prison & Reentry Program, which successfully helped to increase and reinvest correctional funding into successful community-based programs. She also previously served as an Associate Director for Crime & Gun Safety on the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Bill Clinton, and as Executive Director of Test400K, a global organization dedicated to ending the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. A national leader on issues related to women’s mass incarceration, she the Co-Chair of the American Probation & Parole Association (APPA) Justice-Involved Women & Girls Committee and a participant of the 2023 National Institute of Correction Gender Responsive Summit. She has also been engaged in global efforts as a member of the New York Vance Center for International Justice Women’s Prison Project, as an advocate for the successful passage of the United Nation’s Bankgok Rules for Women Prisoners and as a former member of the International Corrections & Prisons Association (ICPA). She has presented her work in several countries, including Colombia and Thailand. Benos has also created several innovative models that can be used by states to end the mass incarceration of women, reduce harm to women, their children and families, and improve health, well-being and outcomes among them. With her p

Elizabeth Cruz
Senior Advisor, Health & Well-being, The Women's Justice Institute (WJI)

Liz Cruz has worked in leadership positions throughout the field of mental health and substance use for more than one decade. This work recently led her to an appointment as the Lead Strategic Advisor to the Health & Well-being Working Group of the historic Statewide Women’s Justice Task Force of Illinois, a project of the Women’s Justice Institute (WJI), which united directly impacted women and over 100 other women leaders behind building a plan to reduce the women’s prison population by at least 50%. Since the appointment to the WJI, Liz has taken on a special role as Senior Advisor for the WJI and is currently working as a Care Coordinator for the Cook County Health/SAMHSA Women’s Reentry Initiative. Liz also provides support to partner agencies in relation to civic engagement, training and assistance of gender responsive/trauma informed policies/practices and providing quality improvement/assurance on several grants with the WJI. Elizabeth earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a concentration in Criminal Justice from Argosy University in 2014, and her Master’s Degree in 2016 in Forensic Psychology. Liz desired to continue to educate, so much so that she was hired as an Adjunct Faculty and has been an instructor for over five years. Liz continues her journey as a clinical professional, educator and advocate to provide guidance and support to women impacted by the legal system as well as students seeking to continue their educational journey, as she knows all too well the journey of both.

Lynette Faulkner
Parole Commander, IL Department of Corrections

Lynette Faulkner started her career with the Illinois Department of Corrections in 2000 as a Correctional Officer at Joliet Correctional Center. She was promoted to Parole Agent in 2004 where she performed professional field work and case management for juveniles and adult parolees. During her career as a Parole Agent, she worked in various positions including specialized units and as the Parole Division’s Training Coordinator. She was promoted to Parole Commander in 2016 where she supervised Parole Agents who monitored parolees in the community while implementing policies and procedures of the Illinois Department of Corrections. She is currently the Parole Commander for the Female Individuals Specialized Unit (FISU) where she supervises Female Parole Agents. FISU Agents are required to independently supervise women who have experienced trauma and assist with reintegration into the community utilizing trauma-informed care and gender responsive methods. Specialized training for FISU consisted of Women’s in Corrections, Women’s Risk Needs Assessments, Justice Involved Women, Healing Trauma of Women, Gender Responsive 101 (GR 101), and Creating Regulation and Resilience (C/R 2). Commander Faulkner earned her B.A. and M.A. in Clinical Psychology at Governors State University. Her focus is advocating for children, adolescents, and women from underserved populations and communities. She demonstrates this by promoting self-care, therapy, and obtaining coping strategies through interventions that are individualized and family based. Her interests are correlating co-occurring disorders between mental health, substance abuse, and criminal activity in pursuit of combating self-defeating behaviors. She believes that with the knowledge and application of evidence and peer-based treatments, stigmas associated with these help-seeking populations will be lessened.

Colette Payne
Senior Advisor, The Women's Justice Institute (WJI)

Colette Payne is an organizer, leader, student, mother, and grandmother. Her passion is to educate families to build healthier communities. In 2020, she was appointed to serve as the first Director of the Women’s Justice Institute (WJI) Reclamation Project, the first initiative of its kind in Illinois to be led by-and-for system-impacted women. In this role, she is leading the launch of an innovative Reclamation Center in the Pilsen Arts Corridor that will serve as the Reclamation Project’s home for arts and advocacy, mutual support, healing and connection, community building and leadership development among women with lived experience. In her role, Colette engages women directly impacted by the criminal legal system to become agents of change and create solutions to end the incarceration of women and girls. She is frequently featured as a speaker and moderator of community events on topics ranging from the reunification of children and mothers, reproductive justice, mental health care, the need for increased programming in prisons, and barriers to employment for people with criminal records. In 2015 Colette joined the WJI’s historic delegation to conduct a Gender Informed Practices Assessment (GIPA) of Logan Correctional Center, the largest and most complex prison in Illinois, and becoming the first formerly incarcerated woman to serve in this role in the entire United States. Colette has appeared on television and spoken at conferences, churches, and universities, and provides expert testimony before legislative committees. She has received several awards for her leadership, including Claim’s JoAnn Archibald award (2013), the Jane Adams Center for Social Policy and Research Community Leadership Award (2015), Safer Foundation’s Carre Visionary Award (2018) and the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) 2020 Impact award for her dedication to improving the lives of women and girls in the Chicago area. Previously, Colette served as the coordinator of the Visible Voices program for CLAIM (Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers), a program of Cabrini Green Legal Aid.