The Benedict Center was founded in 1974 with the support of the Capuchin Brothers and the Racine Dominican Sisters. The first of the Benedict Center's programs was the Jail Chaplaincy, a ministry to the men and women awaiting trial in the Milwaukee County Jail, a shared program with St. Benedict the Moor. Over the years, there have been many changes to the Benedict Center – name, location, leadership. But one thing has never wavered. The Benedict Center’s mission is to work with victims, offenders, and the community to achieve a system of justice that is fair and treats everyone with dignity and respect.
Education to Action
In the early years, the Benedict Center focused on education, not just of women in the criminal justice system, but also the education of the community about the criminal justice system and the need for reform. Early initiatives included the “Citizen and Offender Programs in Education” (COPE) that provided incarcerated women with adult basic education, classes on communication skills, family living, child development, job skills training, and assertiveness training. The Alternatives Program encompassed our education and advocacy work in the community.
Creation of a Day Reporting Center
In 1999, we organized the community to establish a Day Reporting Center as an alternative to incarceration and formed a consortium of nine community providers to partner with the Milwaukee County House of Correction in running the program. This program laid the foundation for the Women’s Harm Reduction Program that exists today.
Focus on Harm Reduction Treatment for Women
In the early 2000’s we adopted a harm reduction approach to our substance use treatment.
Harm reduction is a set of strategies and principles that are:
- strengths focused
- trauma informed
- recognizing that change is a process
- measuring success by progressive steps to reduce risks and increase health
Adding Mental Health Counseling
In 2016, the Benedict Center added mental health counseling to our substance-use treatment program to offer more comprehensive services.
Women's Reentry Program at HOC
In 2016, we created a Women’s Reentry Program at the Milwaukee County House of Correction, supporting incarcerated women as they successfully return to the community.
Sisters Meeting an Unmet Need
We created the Sisters Program as a neighborhood-based response to the health and safety needs of women in the street-based sex trade. Our goal is to create a citywide policy to provide a public health-based approach to help women in the street sex trade, including sex trafficking, instead of criminalizing them.
Our agency is a leader in providing innovative and effective substance use and mental health treatment and wraparound support services for justice-involved women. We partner with other stakeholders to effect systemic change in the criminal justice system. This includes reframing mental health issues, addiction, and involvement in the street-based sex trade as public health concerns that merit treatment and support, rather than as criminal issues that result in incarceration. We remain committed to our founding values of compassion, justice, action, and transformation.
You can watch a video that was made to celebrate our 40th Anniversary in 2014.