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How an Imprisoned Father's Words Mobilized an Entire Community

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 71 Issue: 6 Dated: December 2009 Pages: 80-83
Claire A. Walker; Irene Surmik
Date Published
December 2009
4 pages
This article reviews the history and describes the current operation of the Gwendolyn June Campbell Elliott Family Activity Center, which provides services and activities for children who come to visit parents housed at the Allegheny County Jail (Pennsylvania).
In early 2005, the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF) quoted in one of its publications the following statement made by a 29-year-old single dad housed in the jail: "It is really hard for my daughters - they are seven and four - to wait for such a long time in the waiting room with nothing to do in order to come and see me." At about this time, a new warden arrived to lead the 2,600-bed county jail. PCGF staff met with the warden to share with him what they had learned about the impact on children of having a parent incarcerated in the jail. Based on these conversations, the warden recognized the importance of improving visiting experiences for all children and family members coming to visit jail inmates. As a result, the warden and the PCGF used the occasion of a planned small renovation in the jail's lobby to plan for a way to improve the waiting experience for children coming to visit their incarcerated fathers. What followed was the mobilization of more than 100 individuals from 50 organizations, who volunteered to work in three planning groups in developing a child- and family-friendly waiting area in the jail's lobby. Several weeks after the new center opened, one of the design co-chairs and chief recruiter of volunteers for the center died. It was fitting that the center be named in her honor. The center offers children healthy snacks and an opportunity to interact with their caregivers in an area of the lobby with child-friendly features. 3 figures