There have been two recent discussion papers focussed solely on mothers and prison in the UK namely 'Sentencing of Mothers: Improving the Sentencing Processes & Outcomes for Women with Dependent Children and 'Enhancing Care for Childbearing Women & their Babies in Prison' . Both of which a colleague and fellow researcher Lucy Baldwin , Senior Lecturer in Criminology at De Montfort University - tells me she recently discussed with students, one student responded to the discussion surrounding regarding proposals for change in relation to the sentencing of mothers. The student response was
'Mothers who go to prison deserve everything they get, they should have thought about the consequences when they committed the crime as a mother in the first place''.
Alongside hoping this particular student decides against a career in social or criminal justice , Baldwin tells me she was reminded by this emotive response of the focus of her recent research, both for 'Mothering Justice ' and her Doctoral research which focuses on exploring the emotional impact of incarceration on mothers & grandmothers.
Baldwin (2015) suggests 'Emotion' and 'Motherhood ' are synonymous - the joys of motherhood exalted , the love between a mother and her child widely regarded as the most 'superior' love there can be . Baldwin's PhD research her recent publication 'Mothering Justice' highlights the enormous pressure these 'presumptions' place on mothers for them to be 'perfect' to be nurturing , to be kind , to be self-less - there is a whole social framework dictating what a 'good mother 'should be and what that 'looks like' (Baldwin 2015, Rich 1992, Mead 1935, Oakley 1974, O' Reilly 2004) . Baldwin reminds us how such expectations can feel challenging, pressured and sometimes overwhelming to most if not all new mothers - and how therefore it is perhaps not surprising as Sutherland (2010) suggests that motherhood -even from pregnancy - is synonymous with 'guilt'. Mothers 'do 'guilt as a result of expectation and 'failure to match up to mothering ideals. Mothers feel guilty for working 'am I neglecting my child' , guilty for not working 'am I spoiling/indulging my child' , guilty for being too tired for stories or even two tired for only one story ....
In Mothering Justice 'Baldwin (2015) asks us to consider
''If mothers who are not facing multiple challenges in terms of poverty, lack of opportunity , domestic abuse , addictions ,instability or homelessness -and indeed incarceration feel guilt , then imagine for a minute how much 'guilt' pressure and internal devastation mothers in the criminal justice system might feel. Mothers in prison are experiencing the challenges to 'good mothering' on top of dealing with the consequences of already 'pain filled 'lives (Corston 2007)''.
Baldwin's PhD is exploring exactly this and the early findings from her research highlight exactly how that feels, and it feels 'overwhelming, hopeless, guilt inducing, devastating and long lasting' (to say the least).
Baroness Corston (2007) highlighted this, suggesting that simply being imprisoned as a mother would lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt and inadequacy as mothers. Furthermore are women who do find themselves behind bars therefore seen by 'others 'automatically as 'bad' mothers too? Indeed do the women judge themselves to be only and irretrievably 'bad mothers'? Corston (2007) suggests wearing or being subject to this assumption/label is, understandably damaging to self-esteem and self-worth, stating:
"Many women still define themselves and are defined by others by their role in the family. It is an important component in our self-identity and self-esteem. To become a prisoner is almost by definition to become a bad mother." (Corston 2007:2.17:20)
Baldwin, highlighting the work of Enos (2011) discusses the challenge for imprisoned mothers to maintain an identity of 'good mother' in an environment presenting challenges to that claim. Enos argues - often the successful assignation of roles is related to activities associated with that role - a firefighter will put out fires, a police officer patrols and makes arrests - similarly a mother 'mothers' .Enos therefore suggests that the retained identity of 'good mother' is at least partially challenged because the lack of the ability to undertake 'daily care' and regular 'duties' associated with the role and identity of a good mother (Baldwin 2015:146).
In chapter 6 of 'Mothering Justice' 'Ursula' painfully and eloquently describes how this feels
''One day when I phoned home my middle daughter came on the phone sobbing , absolutely sobbing -God I came off that phone so upset -... it was such a small thing but it broke me, I felt so. ..Well I felt so much - angry with myself, angry with him and just - well just powerless - hopeless - disconnected - it was just awful - I went quiet for a while after that. I think that's when it hit me you know ,.... when I 'knew' I was a bad mother - once I 'knew' I wasn't a good mother, nothing else about me made sense''. (Baldwin 2015:146)
It is impossible not to recognize the emotion behind this quote - nor to imagine the impact of this sentence on the mother and her child. It is encouraging that there seems to be a tide of change to minimize the number of mothers and children that experience this pain - but it remains important to continue to understand the impact and implications of imprisoning mothers and grandmothers unnecessarily.
Baldwin l. (2015) Mothering Justice: Working with mothers in criminal and social justice settings .Sherfield on Loddon .Waterside press. See Chapters 1, 6 and 11 .
Lucy Baldwin has been a Senior Lecturer in Criminology for 11 years - she is also an ex Social Worker and Probation Officer with over 25 years' experience in social and criminal justice. Her Doctoral research 'Motherhood Confined' explores the Emotional Impact of incarceration on mothers and grandmothers. She has published in this field in journals and is author editor of 'Mothering Justice' (see footnote 1) also in relation to Mothers and Sentencing. She has two articles forthcoming in peer reviewed journals related to emotion and mothering, and one international joint article with research fellow from Coventry University, Rona Epstein (forthcoming). Lucy is currently also engaged in a joint research project with Rona exploring sentence decision making processes surrounding mothers sentenced to short periods in custody.
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