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The Incarceration Effects on Mothers and Children Proposal

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Updated: Mar 7th, 2020

Political issues

An examination of current political orientations involving child custody within countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and various parts of Europe show that there is a distinct orientation towards child custody proceeding where the mother is the predominant choice despite evidence showing that she does not have the financial capacity or sufficient career fundamentals (i.e., having a job for an extended period of time).

What must be understood is that while the law states that there is no bias in cases involving parental custody, this is far from the truth wherein various court cases throughout the years have clearly shown a distinct bias towards the mother having custody of a child.

The book Mothers on trial the Battle for Children and Custody (2011) attempts to explain this by stating that due to their “function” in the human reproductive cycle, mothers are immediately associated by judges and juries alike as being the best candidate to raise a child as compared to a man (Mothers on trial the Battle for Children and Custody, 2011).

While studies such as those by Turney, Schnittker & Wildeman (2012) confirm that mothers are an essential aspect in helping to develop a child’s intellectual and emotional capacity, the fact remains that most justice systems, as well as political bodies, do not take into consideration a mother’s position as a child raiser if she has committed a crime (Turney, Schnittker & Wildeman, 2012).

The focus is on the crime itself with no consideration for the potential psychological impact the separation between mother and child would cause. Children of mothers who have been incarcerated with no living relatives willing to take them are often fast-tracked into the foster care system which Turney, Schnittker & Wildeman (2012) describes as resulting in dysfunctional children who have a greater predilection towards adverse social behavior and rebellion.

The psychological theory of personality development specifically states that an individual is born neither good nor deranged but rather is a product of his/her upbringing wherein observed behaviors and actions of parents, adults, etc. are emulated which results in the development of distinct individual personality traits.

One prime example of negative effects of current legislation surrounding the incarceration of mothers can be seen in the case of Charles Manson, noted psychopath. It can be seen in an A&E documentary on the life of Charles Manson that his deranged mental state was brought about from abandonment issues early on in his life due to his mother’s incarceration, his placement in foster care as well as his adolescent to teen years having revolved around being confined to juvenile detention facilities and even jails (Youtube, 2008).

As stated in the documentary, Manson spent half of his entire adult life in jail and was even purported to have said that he preferred his life in prison and did not want to leave since that was the only life he knew (Youtube, 2008). While not all children who have incarcerated mothers develop the same sociopathic tendencies as Charles Manson, various studies such as those by Payne & Salotti (2007) reveal a correlation between criminal behavior, parental incarceration, abandonment, and an increased likelihood in developing criminal tendencies.

This is evidence of the fact that the current system of incarceration, while an adequate method of punishment for offenders simply creates even more criminals in the long run given that children need their mothers to become proper working members of society.

Cultural Issues

Another factor that should be taken into consideration in the case of the incarceration of mothers is the difference in cultural values involving family within the U.S. as compared to that of other countries. Within the U.S., the American nuclear family is considered the most prolific family structure. This involves a mother, father, and children and has little connection to extended family members.

In comparison, family structures within countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and other Asian countries place a considerable level of emphasis on extended families wherein it is not surprising to have 2 or more families within the same household.

This is particularly important to take into consideration since other members of the family can “pick up the slack” so to speak in instances where mothers and fathers of certain children are simply too busy or absent from acting as sufficient role models.

Social control theory developed by Travis Hirschi especially states that all individuals actually have the potential to become criminals, however, it is the “bond” they share with society whether in the form of friendships, recognition of societal rules and norms of conduct, parental influences, etc. that prevent them from actually committing a crime (Payne & Salotti, 2007).

Hirschi goes on further to explain that it is actually quite normal for an individual to desire to commit a crime or even think about it such as desiring to steal an object, injure a person or other forms of criminal activity, however, they are prevented from doing so because of a distinct fear of the impact of this type of activity on their position in society.

The concept of fear in this particular case comes in the form of the loss of societal bonds, careers, social relationships, and other connections that individuals have come to rely on due to a person’s inherent nature to rely on social connections to retain a stable psychological state (Payne & Salotti, 2007).

In other words, people are normally so dependent on social bonds and maintaining them that the thought of losing them after committing a particular action is sufficient enough to deter them from committing a crime (Payne & Salotti, 2007). Based on the work of Hagan & Foster (2012), it was noted that the lack of having extended families within a single household in the case of the U.S. is in part due to the strong sense of individuality that is a focal point within the American culture.

Not only that, with the rise of popularity of single parenthood, it was noted that mothers often had no one to rely on to raise their children except themselves (Hagan & Foster, 2012). Hagan & Foster (2012) explains that the lack of familial bonds causes a greater problem when mothers are incarcerated within the U.S. as compared to Asian cultures.

In the case of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, when incarceration does occur to a mother, it is usually an aunt or uncle that “steps up” to act as a parent for the child. Not only that, local laws in such countries are not as stringent when it comes to childcare wherein it is possible for 3rd or even 4th-degree relatives to assume guardianship of a child with the mother usually being all too willing to allow such an act to occur.

Hagan & Foster (2012) explains that is due to the extended family model within such cultures that children with incarcerated mothers do not develop the same criminal tendencies as those within the U.S. To better understand why this occurs, we go back to the views of Hirschi who goes on to state that crimes occur due to individuals either losing or weakening the various bonds which bind them to society and, as such, results in them not caring of the social ramifications of certain criminal actions (Payne & Salotti, 2007).

In the case of children who grew up into adults with criminal records, it was noted early on that from early childhood they did not have a particularly strong bond with their mothers as a result of her incarceration and in fact felt a certain degree of “rejection” due to the absence of a mother figure in their lives.

Payne & Salotti (2007) explains in his study on the development of criminal behavior that a subsequent loss of trust in the absence of their mothers resulted in children having a less liking chance of actually trusting anyone and, as such, based on Social control theory this loss of a connection early on would have precipitated the occurrence of criminal behavior since there was no bond present to incite fear over its loss.

Similarly, it is suggested by Siegel (2011) that it is socialization and not the social structure itself that produces either positive or negative tendencies (Siegel, 2011). In comparing the case of the Asian extended family model with that of the American nuclear family, it can be seen that the extended family members act as the role models that are necessary for the development of a child’s social bonds.

Hagan & Foster (2012) explains that unlike foster families, extended families are more familiar to the child and results in a greater likelihood of them developing bonds with an extended family as compared to a foster family which is composed of strangers that a child barely knows.

Siegel explains that “the more social problems encountered during the socialization process, the greater the likelihood that youths will encounter difficulties and obstacles as they mature, such as being unemployed, having no parents or becoming a teenage mother” (Siegel, 2011). Thus, the extended family model presents itself as superior in the case of the nuclear family or even single parent households due to its ability to have other family members pick up the slack and help a child develop the necessary social bonds.

Unfortunately, as stated earlier, the extended family model is not as apparent within the U.S. culture and, as such, contributes to the problem of child development should his/her mother become incarcerated.

Religious Values

It is quite interesting to note that in the case of the U.S., religious values are not as prolific or as embedded in the societal culture as compared to countries such as Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E or the Philippines. Walker (2011) explains that religious values are a form of learned behavior that is internalized within a child from an early age (Walker, 2011).

It was shown in the study of Walker (2011) that except radical religious groups, children and adults with strong religious orientations had a far less likely chance of committing crimes as compared to those with weak ties or no ties at all. Various articles in social studies state that crime results direct result of learned behavior wherein norms, values, and behaviors that are normally correlated with criminal actions become second nature to certain individuals (Siegel, 2011).

The differential association theory created by Sutherland states that “crime does not originate from individual traits or a person’s socio-economic position rather it is a type of behavior that is created through a learning process” (Siegel, 2011). Thus, an individual would not have any apparent criminal tendencies while they were young but would develop such behavioral characteristics as a direct result of direct personal influences that result in the development of criminal behavior (Siegel, 2011).

When it comes to children that were embedded with a strong religious orientation at an early age, it is usually the case that this orientation acts as the role model that is absent in their lives when their mother is incarcerated. It was seen in the case of Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Malaysia that criminal behavior among juveniles was severely limited even in cases where there has been a history of incarceration within their family.

Walker (2011) notes that this is in part due to how they have been “trained” so to speak in various religious dogma and orientations that crime is viewed in a negative light. It was also noted by social learning theorists that people who develop criminal behavior as a direct result of differential association justify their actions based on learned behavior wherein ideas normally meant to prohibit crime do not manifest themselves resulting in a distinct lack of remorse for crimes committed.

In the case of children with strong religious orientations, their learned behavior in the form of religious indoctrination actively works against the development of criminal tendencies due to how religious acts as an “artificial” social bond that people do not wish to violate.

Addressing the Issue in other Countries

In the case of children who became adult criminals, it was noted that there was a distinct lack of a sufficient authority figure to administer the punishment aspect of social control thus facilitating the continued development of distinctly negative behavioral tendencies (Youtube, 2008). Such a viewpoint is proven by the fact that they saw nothing wrong with using drugs and committing criminal acts and other similar forms of socially adverse behavior.

It is based on this that issue of the incarceration of mothers in other countries is treated somewhat differently to address such concerns (Allen, Flaherty & Ely, 2010). In the case of the Philippines, daily visitations are allowed, and parents and children are allowed to interact within a designated area to foster better connections.

The extended family model is also heavily utilized as a means of addressing the social bond necessary to help a child develop properly. Within the Middle East, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E usually have a form of “fund” that enable a child to get as many possible opportunities in the form of a fully paid education and far better child services as compared to the U.S. (Allen, Flaherty & Ely, 2010).

As a result, these children tend to grow up to be more socially well adjusted and become productive members of society. In countries such as the U.K. though, the foster care system is somewhat similar to that of the U.S. However, a child is sometimes raised within an orphanage with a “matron” often acting as a mother figure which helps to create the social bonds that Hirsche referred to.

Reference List

Allen, S., Flaherty, C., & Ely, G. (2010). Throwaway Moms: Maternal Incarceration and the Criminalization of Female Poverty. Affilia: Journal Of Women & Social Work, 25(2), 160-172.

Hagan, J., & Foster, H. (2012). Children of the American Prison Generation: Student and School Spillover Effects of Incarcerating Mothers. Law & Society Review, 46(1), 37-69.

Mothers on trial the Battle for Children and Custody. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(13), 1104-1105.

Payne, A., & Salotti, S. (2007). A Comparative Analysis of Social Learning and Social Control Theories in the Prediction of College Crime. Deviant Behavior, 28(6), 553-573.

Siegel, L.(2011). ACP Criminology. (11 ed.). New York, U.S.A: Cengage Custom.

Turney, K., Schnittker, J., & Wildeman, C. (2012). Those They Leave Behind: Paternal Incarceration and Maternal Instrumental Support. Journal Of Marriage & Family, 74(5), 1149-1165

Walker, E. K. (2011). Risk and Protective Factors in Mothers With a History of Incarceration: Do Relationships Buffer the Effects of Trauma Symptoms and Substance Abuse History?. Women & Therapy, 34(4), 359-376.

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