he mission of Women’s Advocate Ministry, Inc. (WAM) is to provide active outreach, crisis intervention, referral and supportive services to incarcerated women and their children. WAM was founded in 1983 by Rev. Dr. R. Elinor Hare, after she accompanied an accused woman to court and observed what she considered an appalling lack of concern for the needs of women and their children in the criminal justice system. As a result, she started WAM as a one-person effort, initially providing crisis intervention services to women in the Brooklyn Criminal and Supreme Courts, under the auspices of the Brooklyn division of the Council of Churches of New York City.
Within six months of WAM’s inception, an unmet demand for crisis intervention services, required the program to expand to the courts in Manhattan and Queens and soon thereafter to the Bronx. After 10 years of serving the organization, Dr. Hare retired and Rev. Annie M. Bovian replaced her as the executive director. Today, the majority of women served by WAM are housed at the Rose M. Singer Correctional Facility at Riker’s Island.
Over the nearly 20 years of its existence, WAM has consistently supported women inmates by working to improve their quality of life while in prison and improving their possibilities to integrate themselves back into society and avoid recidivism after release. WAM provides services along a continuum that addresses the needs of women and children regardless of their place in the criminal justice process. For recently arrested women and those standing trial, WAM advocates for alternatives to incarceration, when possible. For those affected by substance abuse, WAM promotes placement in residential rehabilitation. For women in prison, WAM seeks to improve the conditions around them. WAM has developed a solid relationship with the New York City Department of Correction that has helped improve conditions for many inmates. For example, the Department now has a direct link with the Agency for Children’s Services (ACS) to inform women inmates about the status of their children while in foster care. One of WAMS’ greatest accomplishments was its participation in the 2000 passing of a bill that forbids correctional facilities to shackle women while in labor, previously a common practice in correctional facilities. For a woman leaving the criminal justice system, WAM helps her find housing, address child custody and other legal issues, and refers them to other services that are needed. The most important throughline of all services provided by WAM is keeping families together.