The first Women Moving Forward (WMF) Pre-Release Conference was held in partnership with the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) in the Fall of 2008, and continues to be held annually. The conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), the nation's leading voice for women jurists dedicated to ensuring equal justice and access to the courts for women, minorities and other historically disfavored groups.
The goal of this annual conference is to provide approximately 150 women who are within 6 to 9 months of release with resources and information necessary to support their successful return to the community. Resources include workshops on a variety of topics such as housing and home ownership, money and credit management, obtaining medical insurance, educational opportunities, family reunification, reentry mediation services, coping with trauma, substance abuse, and mental health concerns, yoga, meditation, and dealing with post-release legal issues, avoiding gangs, and tips on successfully navigating parole & probation requirements. Workshop topics also include skill building in parenting, anger management, positive thinking, and employment preparation including resume writing, job retention enhancement skills, and interviews with employers ready to hire upon the participant's release.
In addition to workshops, the conference includes a keynote and/or motivational speaker, a plenary session of formerly incarcerated women who have successfully transitioned home, a business attire fashion show, lunch, and a resource fair.
The WMF seeks to provide participants with a true conference experience – including the provision of conference bags containing a copy of the conference program, a t-shirt, a journal, and other assorted items such as a calendar, toiletries and other items donated by our partners and sponsors. In 2011, for the first time, in lieu of a t-shirt, we will be providing participants with a USB flash drive with various resources materials pre loaded onto the flash drive including a resume template, medical insurance application, and information on other community services.
The conference has been evaluated by Choice Research Associates where both MCIW participants and other attendees including employers, resource fair participants and members of the Conference Steering Committee and volunteers provide feedback on conference activities. While summary evaluation reports are available here, the following comments from WMF participants tell us the story from their perspective: