Essay Example on How Mothers In Prison Are Seen In Society

Published: 2023-07-23
Essay Example on How Mothers In Prison Are Seen In Society
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Maternity Penal system Parenting Social issue Essays by pagecount
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1526 words
13 min read


The increase in imprisonment rates among mothers over the past years has disrupted the societal and family fabrics throughout the world, for instance, by taking probably the sole primary family caretaker (Easterling et al., 2019). Many mothers have attempted to the competing issues of various state correctional facilities such as parole, social service, children welfare system to be able to maintain the court-mandated obligation.

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Regarding the many challenges such as other experiences, they have to convince their internalized ideas of what it means to be a mother in prison with their subscribed identification as either a convict or addict designated to them by the society and the criminal justice system. The identified themes included: (1) Parenting failure and stress, (2) Motherhood after incarceration and reunification, and (3) Motherhood, incarceration and substance use

Theme 1: Parenting failure and stress

This is a common theme that appeared in all three studies. Being a mother may not be sufficient to make incarcerated women be better members of the society, but experiencing motherhood may initiative stress thus resulting into depression among such mother (Goshin et al. (2014). This theme will look at the socioeconomic problems that the mothers in the disadvantaged environment like prisons are experiencing. Mothers who are incarcerated are not in the position to achieve the dominant expectations by their cultural background; the mothers will be battling the structural reality of being a mother and the stigma of being in prison. Society have formed an opinion of viewing woman to be all caring, nurturing, and attentive to their children and must be ready to respond to their child's needs and expectations. Society will view mothers with the perceived opinion of having the responsibility to establish the social order within the family level and at the community at large.

Society considers incarcerated mothers to be unfit of holding the title of motherhood. The crimes and the offenses which are done by the mothers in prisons are seen as the direct evidence of motherhood failure and the inability to be considered as a mother within the society (Loper et al., 2009). Serving in prison will always make a mother to detach from her children, and it is seen as the personal decision of separating from children because she has chosen the circumstance. The separation from the family life is causing stress and stigma to the mothers who are serving in prison. There is a problem in maintaining the relationships with the children as the correctional system, and the child welfare agencies will be creating obstacles by the cumbersome procedures for incarcerated mothers.

On most occasions, children are likely to experience stress and trauma by the arrest of their mothers and the sudden family separation, which is being brought by imprisonment. The pressure will make the children to develop anger, anxiety, and even to experience depression (Mulligan, 2019). The children whose parents are imprisoned are being taken under the custody of relatives which expose the children to emotional condition, which is likely to interfere with their development and academic performances.

Theme 2: Motherhood after incarceration and reunification

In this theme, it describes how ex-convict mothers face challenges in balancing motherhood and reunification into the society. Most parents who are incarcerated face different challenges because they must meet different expectations from the child welfare and the correctional facility. The notion of being criminal and feminine always contributes to the stigma perceptions of the mothers who were imprisoned. This affects their ability to interact with the community post-incarceration easily.

Some members of society will still discriminate against them based on their criminal history (Linonge-Fontebo & Rabe, 2015). Most mothers, after being a prison, are faced with difficult financial situations, which make the process of regaining custody and paying for baby care services cumbersome. Formerly incarcerated mothers who are in the process of gaining custody of their under-aged children are likely to experience discrimination as the system still believes that their behavior is expected to be reflected in the child. It is also notable that the mothers who succeed in gaining custody of the children are experiencing several difficulties in financially supporting their children. The problems which are experienced in the custody process make some mothers lose custody battles and are not allowed to be under the full watch of their children.

On the reunification process, some of the relatives are not welcoming the formerly imprisoned mothers in their families and around their children as they are treated as a threat to the moral conscience and might influence children negatively (Cooper-Sadlo et al., 2019). Some women are viewing the mothers who are from prison to be the violators of gender stereotypes by the crime they committed, and this exposes them to stigma and mental stress, which might reflect on their children. The public discrimination during the reunion process has shattered the dominant dream of motherhood, and women from prison cannot freely express their ideas and opinion as a mother within the society.

Theme 3: Motherhood, incarceration, and substance Use

As the two previous themes have highlighted, it is evident that mothers in prison tend to be negatively perceived by society and are facing various challenge in their quest for parenthood. Over 74% of women incarcerated proved to be either crack cocaine addicts or alcoholics, and in many instances have been charged for possession of illegal drugs. The path of most women who are convict is traced back before they even became mothers, mostly influenced by the vicious cycle of poverty, violence, and even substance use (Allen et al., 2010).

In many occasion, motherhood has been perceived as one of the motivational factors to avoid substance use. However, still most of the women are reported to abuse drugs and substances during their pregnancies and even after giving birth (Schubert et al., 2016). When incarcerated, mothers have to leave their children with ether friends or relatives. Many crack addicts pay for their drugs by selling stolen goods (Mahan, 1996)

Many studies show that many of those mothers addicted to crack or alcohol tend to be the less privileged and are regularly arrested, marginalized or even victimized. The stigma that most of those women face is due to societal expectations of women as either the best guardians, custodians of morality and nurturers. A grounded theory by Kearney et al. (1995) attempted to highlight on the approach on pregnancy on crack and other substances. It was determined that many of the mothers who were crack addicts seemed to undergo threatened selfhood (social identity and self-concept). These resulted into such women salvaging on behalf of their children. Many of the women had to steal from the public to meet both their drug desire and to take care of their children, and thus in the process get arrested and finally incarcerated.

Tremblay & Sutherland (2017) suggest that many tend to experience a relapse into either using drugs or being re-incarcerated because of the inadequate treatment during imprisonment. Various studies have several elements that may lead to the instances of relapse such as, distress from child separation and insufficient service provision via the criminal justice system during their time in prison and after imprisonment to assist them in managing the re-entry.


This review suggests that many incarcerated women who have children tend to face various challenges both from society and the criminal justice system. Some of the women who are addicted to substances and drugs find it relatively challenging to facilitate their motherhood roles and are always at a higher risk of incarceration. Imprisoned women also experienced lots of stress and depression in their quest to meet their parenting duties while in prison; this is because of the lack of effective supportive systems within the prisons such as social service care. In some cases, as indicated in the second theme, women face several challenges in society. They may not exercise their full parental role as they may never be wholly reunited in society leading to parenting stress as stipulated in the first theme.


Allen, S., Flaherty, C., & Ely, G. (2010). Throwaway moms: Maternal incarceration and the criminalization of female poverty. Affilia, 25(2), 160-172.

Cooper-Sadlo, S., Mancini, M. A., Meyer, D. D., & Chou, J. L. (2019). Mothers talk back: Exploring the experiences of formerly incarcerated mothers. Contemporary Family Therapy, 41(1), 92-101.

Easterling, B. A., Feldmeyer, B., & Presser, L. (2019). Narrating mother identities from prison. Feminist Criminology, 14(5), 519-539.

Linonge-Fontebo, H. N., & Rabe, M. (2015). Mothers in Cameroonian prisons: pregnancy, childbearing and caring for young children. African Studies, 74(3), 290-309.

Loper, A. B., Carlson, L. W., Levitt, L., & Scheffel, K. (2009). Parenting stress, alliance, child contact, and adjustment of imprisoned mothers and fathers. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 48(6), 483-503.

Mulligan, C. (2019). Staying together: mothers and babies in prison. British Journal of Midwifery, 27(7), 436-441.

Schubert, E. C., Duininck, M., & Shlafer, R. J. (2016). Visiting mom: A pilot evaluation of a prison-based visiting program serving incarcerated mothers and their minor children. Journal of offender rehabilitation, 55(4), 213-234.

Tremblay, M. D., & Sutherland, J. E. (2017). The effectiveness of parenting programs for incarcerated mothers: A systematic review. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(12), 3247-3265.

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