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
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
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