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Playtime: New Playground Opens at Edna Mahan
By Shaheed M. Morris, New Jersey Department of Corrections
Published: 09/23/2019

Child original scaled

Inmate Vanessa Aiello’s son took a slide down the outdoor playground at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

The 2-year-old, like many of the other children present, played as if it were just another playground.

However, it was not.

The children were the first to set foot on the new, state-of-the-art playground at the women’s facility in Clinton.

“It means a lot for my son,” his mother said. “I can now connect with my son on a more personal level. We no longer have to sit inside. He can run and have fun.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by more than 100 individuals, including New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, Esq.; Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Christine Norbut Beyer; and Judge Victoria Pratt, Chair of the Edna Mahan Board of Trustees.

“Because of our unyielding commitment to strengthening the mother-child relationship, we are especially enthusiastic about the opening of the new playground,” Acting Commissioner Hicks said. “The brand new outdoor playground is designed to provide an additional layer of enjoyment to a child’s visit with his or her mother.”

The playground is a project that was two years in the making, according to Assistant Commissioner Dr. Darcella Sessomes.

“I am so honored to have been part of a dedicated team of public servants who wanted to invest in the future of its children,” she said. “We know that when children have a healthy connection to their parents while they are incarcerated, it reduces the stress and anxiety they have about the parent, and it also reduces the likelihood of the children repeating the mistakes of their parent.”

During her remarks, Administrator Sarah Davis individually recognized members of the facility’s maintenance staff for their efforts in constructing the project, which was funded by JPay Commission Committee. The Committee ensures that JPay funds are utilized for projects that will benefit the NJDOC offender population.

The colorful playground has two sections: one for younger and older children, each with a slide. The playground is yellow, blue and red, and is equipped with the latest technology. Music symbols and bongo drums are inscribed on the playground set.

“The New Jersey Department of Corrections has taken steps to create a safe space for families to bond,” Norbut Beyer said. “We applaud the NJDOC for placing children and families first.” In addition to the new outdoor playground, a section with children’s toys was placed inside of the gymnasium where the attendees gathered. The children who participated in the event were given back-to-school book bags and other items.

“The opening of the playground is a perfect example of a dream fulfilled and a moment in my career I will never forget. This project is not the first, but one of many initiatives we have for the children who visit,” Sessomes said.

Pratt added: “We will no longer penalize children whose parents are in prison.”

In 1978, the Title XX Program, also known as the Mother/Child Visitation Program, was introduced at Edna Mahan. The program was developed based on the premise that women who learn to become better mothers are less likely to return to prison, and their children will adjust more easily when mother and child are reunited.

Inmate Dawn Jackson, who has 10 children and 19 grandchildren, spoke about the benefits of Title XX.

“The Title XX Program has made visits with my family more rewarding,” she said. “I’m proud of the positive impact this will have on the mothers and children.”

“We will now have a better bond with our children,” Laura Sanchez, an inmate who is a mother of two children, said. “Today is a great day for our kids.”

Shaheed M. Morris is a former television and newspaper journalist. He currently works in the public information office for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.


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