Criminal Mothers: The persisting pains of maternal imprisonment




Journal Title

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Bristol University Press


Book chapter

Peer reviewed



Feminist research strives to illuminate voice, especially women’s voices, facilitating their authentic reproduction is an essential aspect to feminist research principles (Oakley 2016, Renzetti 2013, Baldwin forthcoming 2021). Like each chapter in Carlen et al’s ‘Criminal Women’ (1985), this chapter centres the women’s own experience and voice. Taking motherhood as its focus and via two criminalised mothers’ narratives, the chapter examines what occurs when the worlds of motherhood and criminal justice collide. Drawing on the authors Doctoral researchii the chapter demonstrates how ideas, ideals and expectations of motherhood still shape perceptions of female law breakers who are also mothers. Furthermore, this then impacts on mothers’ own perceptions of themselves and their ability to mother well. The chapter demonstrates the subsequent unequal, additional and enduring impact of imprisonment on mothers themselves and on their children. Importantly although the chapter highlights many of the harms of criminalisation and imprisonment, it is hoped it also reminds of the uniqueness and difference, the strength and resilience in the narratives of mothers who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Drawing additionally on evidence from the authors’ research findings, the chapter offers important considerations in relation to the ‘desistance journey’ of criminal mothers, calling for the application of a matricentric feminist lens in individual and structural responses to criminalised mothers and more broadly, for the development a feminist matricentric criminology (Baldwin 2018).


This chapter was written with two criminalised mothers Mary Elwood and Cassie Brown (pseudonyms )


mothers post prison, maternal identity, matricentric criminology, maternal imprisonment


Baldwin, L. (2021) Criminal Mothers: The persisting pains of maternal imprisonment. In: Criminal Women; Gender Matters, Co-Authored by the Criminal Women Voice, Justice and Recognition Network (CWVJR), Maggie O’Neill, Sharon Grace, Tammi Walker, Hannah King, Kate O’Brien, Alison Jobe, Fiona Measham, Lucy Baldwin, Vicky Seaman, Orla Lynch, and Katie Fraser. Bristol University Press


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice