How Do Mothers in Prison Differ From Non-Mothers?

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Abstract

Adjustment patterns and criminal characteristics of 350 incarcerated mothers of children under 21 years of age were contrasted to those of 166 women from the same institution that had never had children. There were no observed differences between mothers and non-mothers in terms of self-reported mental illness symptoms, emotional distress, or conflict with other individuals at the prison. There were also no differences in terms of institutional infractions observed by prison officials. Consistent with previous research with the same sample, there were adjustment differences between mothers reporting high versus low levels of parenting stress, but neither group of mothers evidenced different adjustment patterns relative to non-mothers. However, there were differences in criminal characteristics. Mothers were more likely than non-mothers to be incarcerated for property or drug offenses, and were more likely to have at least one current or previous drug offense in their criminal history. Non-mothers were more likely than mothers to be incarcerated for violent offenses, including homicide. Results indicate that although there are differences between mothers and non-mothers in the contexts associated with criminal behavior, both groups show the same range of adjustment problems once in prison.

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