The steel doors slam shut behind the four girls as they walk down a seemingly endless hallway beneath the watchful eyes of guards.
They line up one behind the other, ready to enter the cold but brightly lighted classroom. The door opens and the girls, dressed in Girl Scout uniforms, rush to embrace their mothers.These girls aren't prisoners.
They're part of Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, a program that allows daughters to see their incarcerated mothers every other week. It is designed to preserve the mother-daughter relationship and to break the cycle of criminal behavior between generations.
"Studies show that girls with moms in jail are six times more likely to be in jail or to get into criminal behavior," said Marie Edwards, director of field services for the Arizona Cactus-Pine Girl Scout Council.
"This builds their self-esteem so they take a proactive role in life. Our interest is in the girls because they are the innocent victims."
On alternate Saturdays, about seven girls, ages 5 to 12, hop into a van and head to Maricopa County's Estrella Jail to join their mothers and to participate in a Girl Scout meeting complete with activities, snacks and a flag ceremony.
"It gives us a chance to get together and do things with our moms that we couldn't do otherwise," said Sarah, 12, whose mother is incarcerated.
Sarah and her sister, Regina, 11, have been involved with the program for a month.
When the girls run into the room, their mother, Pauline, 39, rushes to meet them with open arms and a wide smile. She runs her hands through their long, dark hair, kissing her daughters and telling them over and over that she misses them.
"I look forward to being together for this short time," Pauline said. "I am participating with them, making it fun. Anything we need to say, we can say it here comfortably."
However, before each visit, Pauline must participate in a 90-minute parenting class where inmates talk about how to encourage their daughters to stay in school and to maintain high self-esteem.
At the biweekly meetings, mothers and daughters can hug and talk as much as they like without facing the stares of guards.