TROOP 1500

Girl Scouts Beyond Bars


Girl Scouts Beyond Bars

A row of nine round Girl Scout merit badges; each badge has a scene or emblem embroidered on a green background

An antique portrait of a Caucasian woman in profile; her long dark hair is in a romantic up-do; she wears a turn-of-the-century black dress with a low square neck and flowing crepe sleeves.
Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low

A black and white archival photograph of an early Girl Scout troop seated outside; the girls wear hats, long dresses and tied neckerchiefs; the troop leader stands
Girl Scout troop in 1922

Two Troop 1500 Girl Scouts wearing green sun hats, white shirts and green vests listening to someone talking outside the frame; the girl on the left holds her arms in the air.
Two girls from Troop 1500

The notion of Girl Scouts—those all-American young women in the crisp green uniforms—going into American prisons may seem strange, anomalous or even humorous, but it’s actually in keeping with the traditions of the Girl Scouts as laid down by the group’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low.

Inspired by the success of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides in England, Low founded the American Girl Guides in 1912 as an organization dedicated not just to the domestic arts, but to outdoor activities, athletics and knowledge. Soon the name was changed to Girl Scouts of the USA, and by 1920, there were more than 70,000 members represented by every state in the country.

From the beginning, the group was inclusive. A troop for physically challenged young women was founded in the early years, and other sub-groups in the 1920s included groups for Native American Girl Scouts and Mexican-American Girl Scouts. A decade later, Girl Scout materials were being published in Braille, and the group’s inclusionist policies predated the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

As the world began to change in the 1960s, so did the Girl Scouts, with social issues of the day also present in scouting. In the 1970s, ecology and earth sciences became focuses of study, but it was the 1980s, with the introduction of the Contemporary Issues series of booklets, that recognized that the world of a modern Girl Scout was very different than the world of Juliette Gordon Low. Drugs, teen suicide, hunger, literacy and child abuse all became areas of study.

It was against this backdrop in 1992 that the first Girl Scouts Beyond Bars (GSBB) program was founded in Baltimore as a pilot project between the Girl Scouts and the National Institute of Justice, arranging for formal visits between Scouts and their incarcerated mothers. Since then, the concept has spread to more than 30 troops in 23 states, serving nearly a thousand girls at any one time and keeping the vital mother-daughter connection alive through the bars and across the razor wire of America’s women’s prisons.

There are two GSBB troops in the state of Texas, one of which is Troop 1500, which is expanding the concept to provide nurturing and care in the Scouts’ day-to-day lives—and that of their mothers.

A row of nine round Girl Scout merit badges; each badge has a scene or emblem embroidered on a green background

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