August 23, 2014   27 Av 5774
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Women’s Storybook Project of Texas
Mar. 10, 2011
Monthly visits to women's prisons to help incarcerated mothers record tapes of themselves reading storybooks to their children.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Beth Shalom
Austin, TX
www.bethshalomaustin.org

 Goals:

  • To enable children to hear the voice of their incarcerated mother
  • To help  decrease recidivism of currently incarcerated mothers
  • To help prevent future incarceration of children, since children have a higher rate of incarceration when one or both of their parents have been incarcerated.

Overview:
Five Texas prisons are visited monthly by volunteers to help incarcerated mothers record tapes of themselves reading storybooks to their children. Tapes are then sent to their children, who often live too far away from the prison to visit.

Preparation:
A local church started the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas in the spring of 2003, and Temple Beth Shalom joined the project almost immediately. Organizers worked with a Texas Department of Criminal Justice social worker to implement the program, starting with one prison.

The volunteer process is extensive and includes a written application, official approval from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, two or three site visits to the prison and a three-hour training program. The entire process must be completed within 6 months of receiving official approval from the Department of Criminal Justice. Once volunteers are approved, they are scheduled to assist with monthly visits.

Project Implementation: 
Synagogue members are involved in a variety of ways—hosting annual book drives during the holiday season at local bookstores, making financial commitments—and many women volunteer to serve on the interfaith coordinating board or work with the incarcerated mothers in the prisons.

On a visit day, volunteers drive to the prison together and report to their assigned facility in the late morning. Once inside, usually an assigned resident will have the materials ready and waiting for the volunteers. Then the prison residents arrive and form a circle to open the session. After introductions, residents select books and the volunteers help tape them as they read to their children. Afterward, volunteers debrief outside the prison facility and return home by 4:30 p.m.

Results:
Due to its success, the project expanded to a second prison in June 2010. By the end of the year, volunteers were serving in five of the state’s eight prisons, and a sixth prison is scheduled to be added to the program in the spring of 2011. The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas currently has 145 volunteers and sends 350 books to children each month. Other local synagogues and churches are involved, as well as local Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops, high school student organizations and college interns.

It is likely that inmate behavior has improved because incarcerated mothers must demonstrate 90 days of good behavior to participate in the project.

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