The Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona’s Beyond Bars program is a 2013 Wings Like Eagles Foundation grant recipient to support their work with girls impacted by the juvenile justice or criminal justice systems.
“The Beyond Bars program represents the Foundation’s mission to increase child welfare, the spirit and general community goodwill. Our work with these girls and their families will break the cycle of incarceration in our community,” said Debbie Rich, Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona.
In 2011, the Girl Scouts piloted the Beyond Bars program in Pima County to bring girls and their incarcerated mothers together on a monthly basis to work on projects and activities at correctional facilities. Local Girl Scouts staff recognizes children are the innocent victims of their parents’ crimes and incarceration and seek to reduce the trauma suffered by daughters as a result of the separation and their mother’s incarceration.
Since its launch, 21 girls have participated in the beyond bars program. As part of the program requirements, the mothers at Perryville State Prison attend Parenting Skills classes facilitated by trained staff. They learn positive parenting techniques and use them during Girl Scout meetings with their daughters inside the prison.
“This program attempts to preserve and/or rebuild the mother-daughter relationship,” said Lesley Rich, Social Justice Manager for the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona. “The program provides enhanced visitation and increased communication opportunities and builds girls of courage, confidence, and character.”
During their visits girls and mothers participate in traditional age appropriate Girl Scout activities like singing, crafts and games as well as explore topics such as family life, self-esteem, relationships and healthy-living. Girls and their mothers also decide which badges to work on together.
Beyond the facility visits, girls participate in a Girl Scout community troop meeting once a month. These troop meetings provide a transition between the troop meetings inside the jail to neighborhood troops for the mother/daughter partnership upon the release of the mother.
Participating Girl Scouts complete projects, work on Girl Scouts USA Journeys and badges, and go on field trips. Through access to other girls experiencing the same things, it is hoped these girls will build supportive friendships that greatly benefit both the girls and their families as they adapt to life both behind and beyond bars, Rich said.
“Through the Beyond Bars program, the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona are able to reduce the trauma suffered by the family as a result of separation due to the mother’s incarceration,” Debbie Rich said. “Research corroborates that parental incarceration has a profound negative impact on children. These children are at high risk for neglect, abuse, behavioral health problems, delinquency, and substance abuse issues; and, unfortunately girls are currently the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population.”
For more information about supporting or enrolling in the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona’s Beyond Bars program, contact Girl Scout Social Justice Manager Lesley Rich at 520-319-3160 or email LRich@girlscoutssoaz.org.