Prison and the family : an exploration of maternal imprisonment from a family-centred perspective

  • Natalie Booth

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis placed families at the heart of the research process to develop an understanding of maternal imprisonment that is grounded in the accounts of family members. Estimates suggest 18,000 children are separated from their mothers every year in England and Wales because of maternal imprisonment. Yet there is a paucity of knowledge about these particular family circumstances in academic research, policy and society. The study examines the historical relationship between women and crime, normative assumptions around ‘good mothering’ and takes a critical, family-centred look at the theoretical, policy and penal landscape. A qualitative research approach was chosen for the empirical part of the study, guided by the valuable insights I acquired during a six month placement in a women’s prison. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 families experiencing maternal imprisonment, comprised of two cohorts; convicted mothers, and family members known as caregivers, who were looking after a child whose mother had been imprisoned. The interviews explored the families’ domestic, social, economic and relational circumstances prior to, and during, the mothers’ sentences. This involved a critical examination of their thoughts and experiences of sustaining contact using prison processes; such as visitation. The findings contribute new and important insights into how the mother’s prison sentence had affected the everyday practices, identities, roles and responsibilities of several family members. Although being in prison automatically interferes with family life and motherhood, these findings demonstrate how this was exacerbated by inadequate facilities and provisions in prisons, which failed to support the maintenance of meaningful family relationships. Marked differences were identified between policy rhetoric that pledged support for family ties, and the accessibility of sustaining these relationships in practice. The findings demonstrate how maternal imprisonment cannot be seen in isolation from family life, and recommendations informed by the families’ experiences are proposed.
Date of Award7 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTess Ridge (Supervisor) & Jeremy Dixon (Supervisor)

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