Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering: An Interview with Editor Joanne Minaker

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Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering (Demeter Press, February 2015) is a collection

of scholarly and creative writing on the fastest-growing prison population worldwide: women

and mothers. The anthology examines processes through which mothers are criminalized,

both in the justice system and via social regulation. Demeter Press spoke with editor Joanne

Minaker about her motivation for creating the book and the significance of its message.

 

Demeter Press: In the introduction to Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering, you say

that it is the first book to examine both the experiences of mothers criminalized through

criminal justice processing and extra-legal regulation of mothering in marginalized social

locations. Can you explain these two processes and why it is important to examine both?

 

Joanne Minaker: Mothers are criminalized in a multitude of ways and their experiences with

various societal institutions dramatically impact their mothering, their being, and the well-

being of their children. When we recognize how imprisonment and living “behind bars” is a

widespread experience for mothers cross-culturally and across social locations, then we can

begin to challenge the forces of social exclusion, oppression, and dehumanization that plague

the lives of mothers and children, especially the most marginalized. Criminalization is the

extreme end of social processes that regulate, control, and otherwise govern the lives of

mothers. Given that over two-thirds of criminalized women are mothers, there is a significant

link between motherhood and criminalization that has yet to be fully explored. This book

begins to address the complex processes at work in the criminalization and regulation of

motherhood—from mothers living with HIV to mothers experiencing domestic violence.

 

DM: Why do you think it has taken so long to make this connection in the academic literature

and popular media?

 

JM: So long as women who offend the law are deemed deviant “Others” to men and to

conforming women, their experiences are obscured, which reinforces the dichotomy between

“good girls” and “bad girls.” By illustrating what women criminalized through law share with

non-criminalized women, we hope to complicate prevalent understandings of “criminal

mothers.” The connection we see between mothers who are incarcerated and those who are

viewed as criminal and/or deviant rests in the power of censuring discourses and othering

strategies that operate in systems beyond police/courts/corrections.

 

DM: For readers unfamiliar with this topic, Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering may

contain some surprising—even shocking—facts and statistics, for example, that women are

the fastest-growing population in prison, and that most of these women are mothers. What is

one thing you'd like readers to remember after reading your book?

 

JM: Empathy. I think it is most important to recognize both the similarities and the differences

between criminalized and non-criminalized mothers. The book validates the experiences of

women criminalized through the criminal justice system and extra-legal sites, like child welfare

and health care. This perspective exposes the challenges associated with maternal

criminalization and inspires creative care in developing more supportive spaces for all women

and children.

 

DM: The book contains research from Canada, the United States, Brazil, Trinidad and

Tobago, England, and Israel. Did you find any pertinent cross-cultural trends or themes?

 

JM: Although the book does not provide an exhaustive look at cross-cultural trends, the

inclusion of chapters beyond the confines of Canada or North America was important to us

because the status of women globally remains a feminist issue. One key similarity beyond

borders is how marginalized mothers face the greatest threat of criminalization.

 

DM: Why did you create this collection? What personal or professional interest do you have in

the topic?

 

JM: This collection was an opportunity for me to join my academic background in

criminology/socio-legal studies with my growing scholarship in sociology of motherhood/care.

I’m a Mom of three, so my interest in these questions is both theoretical and practical.

Criminalized Mothers, Criminalized Mothering is a collaboration rooted in the kind of love and

respect all mothers deserve. My co-editor, Bryan Hogeveen, who is Dad to my kids,

supported my desire to ask new questions and pursue a different direction in my scholarship.

 

DM: We’ll end with a question that you posed in the introduction to your book: What can be

done to support rather than criminalize mothers?

 

JM: Cared-for people care for people. To criminalize is to turn a person into a criminal. With

criminalization comes stigmatization, dehumanization, and practices that exclude, punish, and

“other.” The most marginalized women around the world face many struggles in their efforts to

care for their children and make ends meet. Rather than exacerbate their troubles and extend

the punitive arm of the state controlling recalcitrant behaviours, a far more humane and

supportive approach would be to welcome marginalized mothers within their communities.

When mothers consistently access appealing options and accommodating services they can

thrive. When the most marginalized mothers find kind and caring support, reliable resources,

education and training, childcare options, and work opportunities, they are empowered to

make positive and life-affirming changes in their lives. This book is intended to promote a

broader conversation about who cares, and under what conditions, in order to inspire

meaningful change.