Interview with author Lucy Baldwin: mothers on mothers in criminal justicePosted: October 29, 2015
Lucy Baldwin and fellow authors draw on personal and professional experience for Mothering Justice
“A pregnant woman has her head swimming with things she should or shouldn’t know or do. Girls are born into this landscape that expects them to be a mother – but only a certain type of mother,”
explains Lucy Baldwin, author of a new book, Mothering Justice. It’s written by practitioners – including a barrister, prosecutor, police officer, prison officer, probation officer, drugs worker, social worker and psychotherapist – for practitioners working with women in the criminal and social justice systems.
“They’re expected to be warm and strong and selfless but that’s very difficult if you’re in a violent relationship, or suffering poverty. If you’re facing those challenges on top of caring for children, and you don’t always manage to care for them, then you feel an additional layer of guilt and responsibility.
“And that guilt is so destructive to women.”
The idea that motherhood adds an extra layer of complexity to women in the criminal justice system is at the core of Baldwin’s text. It claims to be the first whole book to take motherhood as a focus for criminal and social justice interventions.
Approximately 12,000 women every year experience ‘maternal incarceration’, whilst many more are engaged in community-based supervision, support or interventions from public, private and voluntary services.
But Baldwin says motherhood is often overlooked in sentencing and the way practitioners deal with women. “There are so many points in social and criminal justice in which mothers are engaged – social workers, police attending domestic violence calls – yet the act of mothering is ignored when they deal with that woman.”
Each chapter is written by different practitioners involved with interventions in women’s lives. Laura Abbott writes from a midwifery perspective in the chapter, ‘A pregnant pause: expecting in the prison estate’. And ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ is by social worker Cassandra Barnes. Lucy Baldwin worked as a social worker and a probation officer before entering academia. She is now a senior lecturer in criminology at De Montfort University.
Lens of guilt
One woman in the book who has been to prison explains she knew she was going to spend rest of her life looking through the lens of guilt because she’d been to prison. “It’s so sad,” says Baldwin, “every bad decision her child made, she’d feel guilty and wonder if it would be different had she not been to prison. She told us ‘any sentence for a mother is a life sentence.’ That’s all to do with guilt.”
Of course many people will wonder what’s so special about mothers as opposed to fathers. But Baldwin says she’s not trying to “minimise” fathering. “To some degree fathers do have same emotional anguish. But what this book highlights is the social construction of motherhood means society’s expectation on women’s behaviour is greater, and therefore grief and feeling of failure are worse.
“It’s just about factoring in the additional expectations on mothers. Women are regarded as doubly deviant if they do something wrong, and triply so if they are in trouble with the law. There’s this idea they should know better as mothers – but you don’t hear that so often about fathers.”
Baldwin, herself a mother of three now grown-up children, speaks from not only professional but personal experience too. She recalls going to hospital at 16 to have her first child: “I didn’t have my wedding rings on because my hands were swollen. It was only 32 years ago but the nurses said ‘we keep a box of rings on the ward for girls like you.’
“I remember very clearly being judged and what that felt like as a young mum. I regarded myself as a good mum but felt I had to prove it to everyone.”
Baldwin hopes that this guide will help inform practitioner’s approach to working with vulnerable women – that is, a woman who faces a number of challenges that impact on her ability to live a happy and stress free life, particularly poverty, abuse, violence, abusive relationships, lack of education and opportunity, repeated cycles of destructive behavior with little or no intervention.
The book proposes small changes that could easily be made to improve criminal justice practice with women. For example having the mother represented at child care proceedings while she is in prison, or a presumption against custodial sentences of less than three months. “If it’s only three months then surely it’s not really serious enough to warrant sentence a custodial sentence anyway. It’s not worth her losing her children. Some women are in prison because their children played truant. How is that proportionate?!
All proceeds of Mothering Justice go to three criminal justice charities: Women’s Breakout, Birth Companions and St Giles Trust. Available now from Waterside Press