Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Katherine Egan, Ph.D.; Cindy L. Lavorota, J.D.; Nekima V. Levy-Pounds, Esq.


This qualitative study using C. Wright Mills’ construct of private troubles and public issues focused on the experience of being a child with a mother incarcerated. I interviewed 17 adults, ranging in age from18 to 60, about their experiences growing up with a mother in jail or prison. Five research participants were in jail awaiting sentencing; one of them had two incarcerated children. I also interviewed professionals who worked on behalf of children with incarcerated mothers. I was a participant observer with 20 girls and their social workers on several visits to a state women’s correctional facility. I used interpretive interactionist theory to analyze private troubles and Foucault’s concepts of regimes of truth, subjugated knowledge and disciplinary power to analyze public issues.

Data showed the instability of home life prior to a mother’s arrest. After the arrest, children moved up to 30 times. With few exceptions, life in foster homes or with relatives was difficult and often abusive. Though participants were ambiguous in feelings for their mothers, their mothers were central in their lives. Few participants, even as adults, recognized the socio-economic conditions of their mother’s lives, and so were critical of their mothers. Data showed a lack of a systematic process for identifying and tracking children left behind when mothers are incarcerated; few opportunities for prison visitation; minimal support from schools, social services and inadequate mental health services.

I recommend educational efforts to change the prevailing discourse that disregards and stigmatizes children of incarcerated mothers. Institutions serving children need to recognize and respond to children of incarcerated mothers.


Mothers, Children and Prison, Incarcerated Mothers, Private troubles, Private issues, Children in Crisis, Risk factors that Children of Incarcerated Mothers face, Power dynamics

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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