The intergenerational traumatic impact of maternal imprisonment

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Maternal imprisonment is an often-overlooked area of prison research due to the smaller number of individuals it concerns. However, the impact of sending a mother to prison can be wide-ranging and go far beyond the individual mother. This research took a qualitative narrative approach to examine the wider traumatic impact of maternal imprisonment. Using a socio-ecological framework, informed by trauma theory, the research conceptualizes maternal imprisonment as causing intergenerational trauma, using a definition of trauma that encompasses individual, family, community, and societal factors. 10 interviews were carried out with staff working with mothers in the community and 19 interviews with mothers who had experienced a period of imprisonment in the North East of England. The research found that the majority of mothers had experienced prior trauma in their lives, and that the experience of prison was traumatic for both themselves and their families. The loss of the mothering role due to separation from children had enduring impacts beyond the period of imprisonment, coupled with the stigma of being a mother with a criminal record. Women recounted how prison had changed their sense of self, destroyed their relationships with their children, and those caring for them. They also experienced problems with housing, benefits, and employment. This study shows the breadth and depth of the impact of maternal imprisonment by understanding trauma as something experienced at different levels, including individually, within the family and the wider community and society. It shows how trauma is both experienced directly by children and kinship carers in addition to mothers and passed on vicariously through damage to relationships and family living arrangements. The study uses intergenerational trauma as a way of describing these harms across the generations, showing the enormous impact of maternal imprisonment that generally outweighs the punishment for what are usually minimal non-violent offences.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • Davies, Pam, Supervisor
  • Ramshaw, Pauline, Supervisor
Award date30 Jun 2022
Place of PublicationNewcastle Upon Tyne
Publication statusSubmitted - 30 Jun 2022

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