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Marilyn Moses: NIJ program official brings Girl Scouts behind bars.

Girl Scouts in prison? Marilyn Moses, social science program manager for the National Institute of Justice, conceived this idea after Baltimore Judge Carol E. Smith contacted her seeking help in developing a parent-child visitation program at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

The innovative program, which has attracted national attention, brings 5- to 17-year-old girls to the prison every other week to work on troop projects with their incarcerated mothers and to discuss issues such as drug abuse, teen pregnancy and coping with family crises. On alternate weeks, the gifts have more traditional meetings in the community, earning merit badges, taking field trips and cultivating friendships. The mothers also meet to receive instruction in parenting and other life skills.

In July 1993, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recognized the program with its annual "Unique and Innovative Project" award.

Moses believes one of the program's primary goals is to ease the children's trauma of having their mothers incarcerated. She says some children, especially younger ones, see their mothers arrested and taken away, but they don't know what has happened to them. "Many children think their mothers are being starved, chained and beaten," she says. "They fantasize because they have no frame of reference."

Moses thought the Girl Scouts would be a good choice for the program because "the Girl Scouts are a value-based organization with an established organizational infrastructure and a wall-oiled machine that can put out the word and get the volunteers that are needed to make something like this work."

Moses approached then-Warden Melanie Pereira with the idea in August 1992. After receiving her approval, Moses turned to the Girl Scouts. "I thought I might have to coax them to come into a prison," Moses says. But Barbara Minnis, then-acting director of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, gave an immediate promise to help.

In preparing for the first meeting, which was held in November 1992, Moses donated numerous hours of her own time to educate the Girl Scouts organization about possible problems they might encounter in this new and unfamiliar setting. In addition, she volunteered to pick up the girls from their homes in Baltimore, contact guardians without telephone service and recruit other volunteers.

Since the program began in Maryland, it has been replicated at two other sites--the Jefferson Correctional Institution near Tallahassee, Fla., and the Franklin Pre-Release Center in Columbus, Ohio. NIJ continues to work with correctional institutions around the country interested in replicating this program.
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Title Annotation:The 4th Annual Best in the Business; National Institute of Justice
Author:Spertzel, Jody K.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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