Brittany ComakFeb 23, 2018, 7:30 pmFeb 26, 2018, 3:01 pm

Community program that helps non-violent female criminals move forward expands

Initiative funded by Nassau DA’s office receives grant to hire full-time staff, grow facility


HEMPSTEAD — In the last 25 years, the Nassau County District Attorney's office says that the Women's Opportunity Rehabilitation Center, or WORC program, has helped more than 1,000 women in Nassau County.

"Investing in a woman is investing really in her entire family and an entire community. When a woman is in trouble, her whole family is in trouble," said District Attorney Madeline Singas.

WORC allows non-violent female offenders a second chance. By participating in an intensive educational program, they can pay their debt to society without being incarcerated. Diane Gaines is the director of WORC, who she herself struggles and requires help everyday as a woman who is confined to a wheelchair.

"I think that helps them. Because if they look at me and they say, 'Well, if Ms. Gaines can get up every morning, come in here to help us, then there must be something good here.' And they respect that,” Gaines said. “A lot of them have told me over the years that I've been an inspiration, a role model.”

The program provides life coaching, educational courses, and vocational classes, giving women the tools to get their GED, seek higher education, or employment, and hopefully, not return into the criminal justice system.

In the last year, 24 women have completed the program. The Nassau County District Attorney's office helps to fund WORC, but with a new grant from the state, WORC has been able to hire a full-time staff and expand their facility and programs.

Erika Van Putten is currently taking advantage of the program after facing an assault charge. Almost a year into her time at WORC, she says she likes to focus on helping those around her.

"When I help someone and they're like, ‘Oh my God Erika,’ I didn't understand. It's just the pride that I feel is immensable, it's just immeasurable, it's just crazy,” Van Putten said. “Because when you really stop thinking about yourself and you want to help somebody else, the satisfaction is just unbelievable."

Victoria Roberts is a 1997 graduate of the program. She was originally incarcerated for drug possession and sale. Now, she works for the county, helping the previously incarcerated transition back into day-to-day life.

"You come into a program, and you're broken, and you don't know that you're broken. Then, there are other women prior to you who were broken who took some suggestions and offered some hope. And the strength that we lose sight of, it just makes you understand that you deserve better," Roberts said.

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