Monitored mothering : the experience of mothers who parent within New Zealand women’s prisons. (2019)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplineSocial Work
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
While New Zealand previously allowed babies up to six months old to reside in prison with their mothers in self-care units, in 2008 the Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Act was introduced allowing children under the age of two to remain in their mother’s care. This thesis offers an in-depth qualitative account of mothers’ experiences both within the Mothers with Babies Units (MBU) in New Zealand women’s prisons and their reintegration to their communities.
To build a picture of lived experience, I recorded the stories of mothers during their time in the MBU and post-release, and upon reintegration. In-depth interviewing, participant observation and extensive journaling was used to conduct this research. I undertook my fieldwork in Auckland Region Women’s Correctional Facility, Christchurch Women’s Prison, and within participant’s communities between 2012 and 2015. As a social work researcher, I listened and gathered stories from women who lived within the MBU, observing the impact of this environment on the experiences of mothers both inside the unit and as they were released. This research offered an opportunity for incarcerated mothers to tell their stories as they understood them, and as they chose to speak about them at that point in time.
I gained a wide range of insights through this process of listening. I discovered how the prison nursery operated within a custodial context, which highlighted how these seemingly contradictory worlds of the nursery and prison interacted. I examined how the context of the MBU influenced the development of critical mother-child relationships, connectedness and bonding essential for wellbeing in the first years of life. I also considered mothers’ experiences when they returned to their communities. Of interest was the inter-relatedness of systems and supports both within the prison environment and between the mother, family/whānau and community networks outside. The permeability of these system boundaries was also a notable insight.
As a key outcome from this research, I found the quality of these relationships to significantly contribute to a mother’s well-being. I then used Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework as a foundation to examine and discuss these relational matters. Despite the growing rates of incarceration for women internationally, few studies have focused on the experience of motherhood within the prison. This thesis makes a significant contribution to the literature. It is a unique study offering empirical evidence of the experiences of New Zealand mothers who have their children living with them inside the prison. The findings from this research could be used to inform the development of mother and child-centred programmes and policies in New Zealand and internationally.
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