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Role Strain and Incarcerated Mothers: Understanding the Process of Mothering

NCJ Number
Women & Criminal Justice Volume: 15 Issue: 1 Dated: 2003 Pages: 101-119
Phyllis E. Berry; Helen M. Eigenberg
Donna C. Hale
Date Published
19 pages
This study examined a variety of variables associated with being a mother in prison to determine whether these factors affected the maternal role strain of incarcerated women.
While it is common for both male and female inmates to be parents, women are much more likely to have had custody of their children prior to incarceration. Incarcerated women face a unique dilemma, in that they hold the status of being a mother and cannot fulfill their obligations in traditional ways. This produces a role strain. This study examines whether commitment to maternal roles and their ability to engage in the mothering process affect women’s role strain while in prison. It attempts to determine whether variables associated with the process of mothering affected women’s role strain. The study used a sample of 109 women who had at least 1 child under the age of 18 and who were incarcerated at a minimum-security women’s prison in a southwestern State. Participants were given a survey questionnaire. Descriptive data indicated that most mothers experienced a relatively high degree of role strain. The majority of the women participants reported that they frequently or sometimes missed out on the pleasures of being a parent. In addition, women who did not live with their children prior to incarceration experienced more role strain than those who had recently resided with their children, and the longer a woman was incarcerated the more difficult it was to maintain relationships with their children and to perform mothering acts. Additional research should explore the concept of mothering and its relationship to role strain in more depth. Finding ways to help women do mothering while in prison will help maintain the parental relationship during incarceration. References