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The Complex Relationship Between Motherhood and Desistance


Using a sample of 118 drug-involved women originally released from prison in the 1990s and re-interviewed between 2010 and 2011, this paper examines the role motherhood played in the desistance process from crime and substance abuse. Interview narratives revealed that motherhood rarely functioned as a turning point per se that activated desistance, but caring for children did serve to solidify prosocial identities once offenders had transformed their addict/criminal identities. Despite their identity transformations, however, the journey of desistance for the majority of mothers was still a long and arduous path. The reality for these mothers most often resembled a hostile terrain marked by the competing demands of battling addiction, finding employment and suitable housing with a criminal record, establishing visitation and custody rights in family court, and regaining the trust of children and family members who had long ago lost faith in their commitment to their families. This research illuminates the complexities inherent in the desistance process for a contemporary sample of drug involved adult women entrenched within the criminal justice system.

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