Motherhood Judged: Social Exclusion, Mothers and Prison.




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Demeter Press


Book chapter

Peer reviewed



Women, girls, mothers and grandmothers arguably all experience exclusion at some point in their lives – just by the very nature of being female in the first instance. Girls talk of being excluded from ‘grown women’ conversations, women are excluded in a man’s world daily, older women describe feeling ‘invisible ‘as they age – but arguably few women are as genuinely and completely socially excluded as the imprisoned mother. (Baldwin 2015, Enos 2001,). Fear is often a relevant factor in relation to why people may become ‘othered’ or excluded, and Feinman (1994) suggests throughout history fear of the non-conforming woman, i.e. the criminal woman has always run high – never more so when that woman is also a mother. Mothering, particularly ‘good mothering’ law breaking and prison are deemed incompatible:

“Many women [in prison] 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).

Being located in prison simply magnifies the social exclusion most mothers entering custody already feel, long felt through class, poverty, victimization and inequality. Therefore, mothers in custody are often dealing with the pain of mothering from a physically excluded position whilst also ‘managing’ the emotional fallout of already pain filled lives (Carlen 1983, Baldwin 2015). To be separated from one’s children and families whilst managing the additional burden of guilt, judgement and social exclusion (Sharp 2015) can feel unsurprisingly overwhelming. How do mothers themselves experience such feelings, how does the judgement of others affect mothers in prison? How does it affect their view of themselves and of each other? Do they as a socially excluded group themselves exclude others within prison walls and why? This paper seeks to explore such issues and provide answer to some of these questions – both from the literature available and from the authors own research. The paper will explore the emotional experiences alongside the sense of exclusion felt by incarcerated mothers. In addition, it will discuss the value of understanding more about incarcerated mothers lived experiences and offer recommendations in relation to working practices with such mothers which will seek to minimise and compensate for the impact and effect of social exclusion of mothers who go to prison. The effects of which are very self-evident and eloquently described by one mother in my ongoing research.

‘’ I didn’t just feel disconnected from my kids, I felt disconnected from everything – from the world even – I was so scared to come out of prison – I knew I’d have friends and even family who wouldn’t want to know me …. How can you feel part of something when you know you are not wanted’’? (Baldwin 2019 – forthcoming)


The book is likely to be published in the spring of 2019.


Mothers, Social Exclusion, Mothers and Prison


Baldwin, L. (Forthcoming 2019) Motherhood Judged:Social Exclusion, Mothers, and Prison. In Byvelds, C and Jackson, H (EDS). Motherhood and Social Exclusion. Demeter Press, Canada


Research Institute

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