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Women's History Month 2014: Commission of Correction Leader Helps Children With Parents in Prison

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March is Women's History Month, and all this week, NY1 will be focusing on women who are leaders in government and politics. The series begins with Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, who is commissioner of the state's Commission of Correction. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.

When Sesame Street produced a groundbreaking segment last year called "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration," Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross was a key player behind the scenes. As the commissioner of New York's Commission of Correction, she says that children who have parents in prison require special attention.

"There was no one really talking to the children about what had happened to their parent, and this became my cause celebre," Ross says.

Harrison-Ross' goal is to ensure humane and safe jails and prisons. To that end, she spends a lot of time at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, where she sits on the board for Supportive Televisiting Services. Here, children can have video visits with their parents behind bars, and the child relaxes on a cozy couch as opposed to an intimidating prison visiting room, which Dr. Ross says can have a damaging effect on kids over time.

"They went into visiting rooms which were stark, metal, just awful, and also very loud," she says.

Darryl Morrison did a short jail term, and his 10-year-old daughter used the televisiting service while he was locked up.

"Emotionally, it kept the bond between me and my daughter really, really close," Morrison says.

As a pioneering woman and African-American in her field for more than 40 years, Harrison-Ross is being heralded as a Champion of Change in Public Service, with a major award named in her honor.

To learn more about the event on April 3 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, call 212-874-5210, extension 117. To learn more about Supportive Televisiting Services, call 212-874-5210, extension 143.

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