The Impact of Incarceration

Can mothers and daughters bond beyond bars?

Across the country, 1.7 million children — half of them under the age of 10 — have a parent in prison. Approximately eighty-percent of women incarcerated are mothers, and most of them are primary caretakers of their children. By the time an individual enters the criminal justice system, oftentimes as a youth, they report having been faced with six childhood traumas.

Incarcerated women often leave behind multiple children who may be separated amongst family members or foster care. Twenty-five percent of adult women in prison have either given birth at some point during the year prior to their imprisonment or are pregnant at the time of their arrest. Girls are impacted due to the abandonment of their primary caretaker, being separated by the closet female role model and they feel anger and pain associated with a mother’s incarceration.

Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Beyond Bars Program

Incarcerated mothers face particular obstacles, but through visitations if they are not prevented from restraining orders, there is an opportunity to build mother-daughter resiliency. One program that makes this possible is the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program, which was established in 1992 as a partnership between the National Institute of Justice and the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. It has grown to serve thousands of girls across the country.

The program equips girls ages 5 to 17 whose mothers are incarcerated with the tools they’ll need to succeed, while also strengthening the mother-daughter bond through regular visits. Girls build a better relationship with their mother. In Southern California, the program began with the formation of a Girl Scout troop consisting of daughters of women incarcerated in the prison at Chowchilla, California.

Mothers are registered as adult Girl Scout volunteers and their daughters are registered as Girl Scouts. Girls in the troop travel over 300 miles each way eight times a year to meet as a troop in the prison with their mothers, guardians, and a Girl Scout staff member.

To learn more about or support the program, contact Linda Dominguez, Chief of Community Partnerships at or Carrie Raleigh at