Mother-infant separation in prison: problematising attachment theory in policy and practice

Powell, Claire (2018) Mother-infant separation in prison: problematising attachment theory in policy and practice. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Women in prison assert that separation from their children is one of the most traumatic aspects of their imprisonment (Corston, 2007; Douglas, Plugge & Fitzpatrick, 2009; IAP, 2017). This thesis considers mother-child separations in English prisons from the perspectives of mothers and prison staff, alongside a critical examination of the use of attachment theory in prison policy and practice. Using a critical realist approach, this mixed-methods study integrates qualitatively analysed semi-structured interviews with a practitioner survey and document analyses. A focus on attachment theory enables a multi-perspective view of an overlooked group of prisoners and proposes relevant policy and practice applications.
Study of policy and related literature reveals a consensus that separation from children for imprisoned mothers is traumatic. However, no detail is offered about how mothers should be supported. Interviews with six attachment experts and a survey of 30 family practitioners uncovered a range of critiques of current prison practice supposedly based on attachment theory, in particular the focus on a ‘best age’ of separation. Interviews with six previously imprisoned mothers highlighted the importance of the wider context, especially external childcare, with regards to their experience of separation. Open prisons were viewed as enabling access to services and the most positive relationships with staff. Interviews with 24 prison staff emphasised the challenges of working with separated mothers, specifically the emotional impact of this type of work, and the difficulties of working with social services.
Focusing on the understanding and practice of attachment theory revealed its limitations and problematises its use in prison policy, including critiques of Mother Baby Units. It is proposed that future practice and research should be underpinned by partnership with social work in order to inform best practice, whilst a human rights-based approach with enforceable minimum standards would mitigate some of the harm caused by mother-child separation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
B. > Theses
Item ID: 25950
Depositing User: Vimal Shah
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2019 16:58
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2019 07:00

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