"Here They Look at Us as People”
Comparing Mothers’ Experiences with an Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) Program and Incarceration
Keywords:Alternatives to incarceration (ATI), mothers, minor children, mother-child community-based ATI
Approximately 60% of all incarcerated women in the United States are mothers with minor children and most of them are single mothers. When mothers with minor children are incarcerated, the disconnection and loss of tangible support can have a traumatic impact on families. Alternatives to incarceration (ATI) can be a viable option to maintain their significant relationships while holding them accountable for their crimes and providing them with necessary rehabilitation. The purpose of this study was to examine how mothers participating in an ATI program compared this experience to conventional incarceration. Data were collected from eight focus groups involving 34 mothers who were current participants or graduates of an ATI program. Data were analyzed using exploratory thematic analysis. Analysis revealed four salient themes characterized by these in vivo themes: incarceration is not rehabilitation; incarceration is easy, the program is hard; I’m not the same person; and connection with children. Findings suggest that mothers find the ATI more rehabilitative and relational than incarceration. Future research should explore outcomes for graduates of ATI specific to their rehabilitation and connections to children. A mother’s readiness for change while incarcerated and when participating in an ATI intervention should be evaluated in relation to these outcomes. The social work profession can increase research, policy, and direct service efforts in criminal legal reform by advocating for appropriate alternatives to incarceration for mothers.
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