How do mothers ‘do time’? – Understanding variation in mothers’ experiences of imprisonment.

Ms. Rebecca Wallis1,2 Susan Dennison, Lisa Broidy
1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Australia,2TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

This presentation draws on in-depth interviews with 60 mothers imprisoned in Queensland. It explores how mothers’ experiences of imprisonment are shaped by the interplay between maternal self-concept and role performance, and how this interplay is conditioned by mothers’ personal and social characteristics and their maternal histories prior to imprisonment. In particular, this exploration reveals that imprisoned mothers are a heterogeneous group, who are ‘doing time’ in a number of different ways. Some mothers are concentrated on maintaining an already well- established maternal identity during imprisonment, whereas others are primarily trying to cope with trauma and loss arising from their maternal histories. Some are actively working to reclaim and transform their maternal identity. Other mothers exercise little maternal authority during imprisonment, but rely instead on family to facilitate and support their maternal relationships. This explains differences in maternal role performance during imprisonment, and reflects variation in maternal self-concept and agency. It also demonstrates the importance of social and institutional contexts in shaping motherhood, both in prison and over time. This study helps to deepen our understanding of the range of maternal experiences in prison; shines light on key factors and interactions that shape patterns of variation; and has implications for the range of supports required to be more responsive to the needs of mothers.


Rebecca Wallis is an Associate Lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law, and a PhD candidate at Griffith University. Rebecca’s research explores how criminal law theories and principles play out in policy and practice, and how these shape the operation of the criminal justice system in intended and unintended ways. Her doctoral thesis explores maternal pathways through imprisonment.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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