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Betty Marler helps create new futures for troubled girls

“I still believe education is the escape route out of criminal lifestyles and poverty,” says Betty Marler.

Being the namesake for a correctional facility may be an uncomfortable tribute for some, but for Betty Marler, MSW ’81, it feels right. In recognition of Marler’s extensive work in youth corrections, her name adorns a locked correctional facility for juvenile girls — the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center, located in southwest Denver.

A place for serious and repeat offenders, the Marler Center is the first correctional facility in the state to offer specialized treatment for girls, whose learning styles and roots of addictions differ from boys.

Although the center is secure, Marler says it is not designed like a prison. “If kids spend years with bars and clanking doors, they learn how to live in prison,” Marler explains.

Marler’s experience teaching at a girls’ boarding school in New Hampshire fueled her passion to work with troubled girls.

After returning to Denver, she joined the faculty at the former Loretto Heights College, where she was the director of the Teacher Corps project and worked with the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Youth Corrections to give convicted criminals a chance to earn degrees at the college.

“I still believe education is the escape route out of criminal lifestyles and poverty,” Marler says.

She retired as director of the Division of Youth Corrections in 2001, the same year the Marler Center opened.

Through a new partnership with two private organizations, Rite of Passage and Excelsior Youth Center, the Marler Center will have a sports program and its own charter school, where students can receive a Denver Public Schools diploma.

In the future, Marler, who volunteers as a consultant at the center, hopes to focus more on transitioning the center’s 40 residents back into the mainstream. Many of them make advances when under treatment but regress when they are exposed to gangs and drugs again, she explains.

“My hope is that the center will become a resting place for young women so they can get their lives together, Marler says.

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