‘A Life Sentence’: The long-term impact of maternal imprisonment
In the last decade research surrounding ‘maternal imprisonment’, has become more visible, the topic has garnered interest and attention in the UK in a way it had not previously enjoyed. For example, existing UK research includes; explored maternal imprisonment and the rights of the child in sentencing (Epstein, 2012; Minson 2014; Prison Reform Trust, 2015), young motherhood, stigma and prison, (Sharpe, 2015), maternal imprisonment and the wider impact on the family (Booth, 2017; Masson, 2014), and maternal identity and maternal emotion Baldwin, 2015, 2017, 2018; Lockwood, 2013; Rowe, 2011). However, except for Baldwin, 2017, 2018, less well documented, are the long-term effects of maternal imprisonment, both in relation to the wider family and for mothers themselves. This paper, drawing on the authors own research, seeks to explore the longer-term impact for post-release mothers. The chapter, drawing on interviews, questionnaires, letters from across several research projects, will explore particularly, the long-term impact of imprisonment on maternal identity and emotions. Mothers in the research described how they assumed that release from prison would mean a ‘return to normal’, that life would carry on much as it has prior to their sentence. The reality was however that mothers felt forever ‘tainted’ (Baldwin, 2017), by their prison experience, they felt like ‘failures’’ as mothers, and this pervading sense of now being a ‘bad mother’ affected their relationships with their children and families and their own self-worth. These post-prison mothers and grandmothers described struggling to reintegrate into their families, to re-establish themselves in their previous roles. They described amongst other things, feeling ‘judged’, ‘powerless’, ‘suicidal’, ‘invisible’ in their own homes. The longed-for release had brought with it many issues the women had not anticipated nor prepared for, and this had an impact on their ability to cope, and sometimes on their desistance. If we are to continue to send mothers to prison, and arguably the preferred option is wherever possible we don’t; then more must be done to support mothers and children affected by the criminal justice system. This paper highlights the relevance and importance of emotionally supporting mothers both during the custodial period and importantly, post-release in the community. Working with mothers via a matricentric criminological approach, assisting them to maintain an active mothering role during their sentence will prove beneficial in terms of maintaining relationships. Supporting mothers and families in the often-challenging period of re-integration will assist successful resettlement. Failure to do so may impact negatively, not only positive outcomes for mothers themselves but also on the mothers’ ability to engage in sentence planning/supervision and therefore resistance. Which ultimately will further impact on the children and wider society. The chapter provides the post-prison context in an edited collection focussing on issues related to mothers in prison. It is an original contribution to knowledge based on my research findings.
Citation : Baldwin, L. (2020) ‘A Life Sentence’: The long-term impact of maternal imprisonment. In: Lockwood, K. (Ed.) Mothers Inside (working title), Bingley: Emerald.
Research Institute : Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice
Peer Reviewed : Yes