18th October 2021
Entitled, “Motherhood Challenged: Exploring the persisting impact of maternal imprisonment on maternal identity and role’, this report is the executive summary of doctoral research by Dr Lucy Baldwin. The research is based on in-depth research with 43 criminalised mothers. Dr Baldwin records the experiences of mothers from their early lives, contact with the criminal justice system, prison and release.
The research suggests that in order for the needs of mothers in the criminal justice system to be met more effectively, significantly more attention must be paid to their maternal role and maternal experiences, before, during and after imprisonment. Powerfully demonstrated by mothers in the study was the number of failed, missed and lost opportunities to support them prior to imprisonment, and often before their criminalisation.
Mothers in this study described how they struggled specifically as mothers to adjust to prison life, and how they felt that prison for a mother is “a million times harder than if you’re not a mother”. Nonetheless, for some mothers, prison was the first time they had been able to access support. However, even when mothers felt there had been some positives from their imprisonment, the mothers still felt, that they should have been supported in the community, could have been punished in the community and should not have been sent to prison.
"My kids were bullied, ignored, unsafe, neglected and no one cared ... and I couldn’t do anything about it, they suffered so much, and it was such a pointless sentence, for not paying a fine I couldn’t bloody afford …. prison because I was skint. They are changed forever they are. It’s not right"
All of the mothers in the study described how, although they had been desperate for release, they had felt unprepared for it. Dr Baldwin discusses experiences of trying to become a mother again on release through mothers’ descriptions of their attempts to repair their motherhood as they re-enter the lives of their children and families. The mothers described how they would strive to come to terms with the collateral damage of their imprisonment in terms of enduring guilt, shame, losses, changed relationships, post-prison supervision and long-lasting trauma.
The mothers described what amounted to an ‘institutional thoughtlessness’, regarding their status and role as criminalised, imprisoned and post-release mothers. This thoughtlessness impacted mothers in many ways and at every stage of the criminal justice system.
The research highlights the current failure of the whole criminal justice system, and particularly prison and probation, to fully embrace or take the opportunity to harness motherhood as a motivating and rehabilitative factor. This indicates a need for motherhood to be factored into supervision and sentence planning. The research calls for the acknowledgement that engaging criminalised mothers in supportive relationships requires understanding, compassion, mindfulness and resources, but that doing so will return a safer, more compassionate environment, which will, in turn, result in more positive outcomes for mothers and their children.
The report makes a host of recommendations for research, policy and practice that would contribute to understanding and challenging the social, political, and criminal justice context of mothers in contact with the justice system.
Read the Executive Summary of Dr Baldwin’s PhD research here.
Dr Baldwin’s full PhD thesis is available here.