What does caretaking look like when it occurs in prison? Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in a mother/child prison in California, this article explores the practices and uses of motherhood in a prison designed for female offenders and their children. Burdened by soaring criminal justice expenditures at a time of budget crisis, many US states have begun to look to "alternative" forms of incarceration. Heralded for their cost-cutting promises and ostensibly progressive approach to the needs of children with incarcerated parents, mother/child penal facilities have become increasingly popular. Yet instead of offering an alternative to the punitive practices of the criminal justice system, I argue, such facilities can become symptomatic of them-and thus mirror dominant ideas about gender, race, and class. In this penal setting, the logic of punishment collided with and ultimately subsumed the logic of caretaking-as motherhood was undermined, subsumed, and punished by the prison staff. With this in mind, I use the case of parenting in prison to reflect on the contemporary politics of punishment and of motherhood-and the ways they can end up meshing in even the most seemingly alternative of penal institutions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Gender Studies
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)