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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Female offenders : attachment & parenthood Swihart, Gayla


Many women in prison are likely to have children, but for various reasons may not be playing the role of primary caregiver prior to incarceration, and may be unable to fulfill this role when released. This research was designed to investigate the interpersonal difficulties that may contribute to the parenting problems of this unique population. Female offenders have an increased likelihood of personality pathology and history of abuse, creating a set of circumstances that affect these women's ability to have satisfactory relationships. This may be manifested in an orientation towards relationships that could be classified as an insecure attachment style, although it is not the relationship per se that is classified as an insecure attachment style; rather, the insecure attachment style (or pattern) refers to the individual's view of themselves and others, and their attachment style may then influence their responses to others in intimate relationships (e.g., their warmth, caregiving, jealousy, ability to trust, etc). The female offender population provides a distinctive opportunity for investigating the relationships between attachment styles and incarcerated women's personality pathology, experiences with their primary caregivers, as well as their own experiences as mothers. The attachment styles of one hundred eleven incarcerated female inmates were assessed using the Relationship Questionnaire (RQ; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) and the Experience in Close Relationships Inventory (ECRI; Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998), and a sub-sample of these women were interviewed using the Peer Attachment Interview (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). Offenders were also assessed for quality of relationships with parents using the Egna Minnen Betraffande Uppfostran (EMBU; Perris, Jacobsson, Lindstrom, von Knorring, & Perris, 1980), as well as with children using the Parental Stress Scale (PSS; Berry & Jones, 1995) and a Parental Bonding Interview (created specifically for this research to gather information about parent-child relationships, the level of caregiving provided to the child, and the mother's subjective account of her parenting experiences). The SCID-Il Clinical Interview (First, Gibbon, Spitzer, Williams, & Benjamin, 1997) was used to assess for personality disorder characteristics, which have been found in previous research to be prevalent in female offender populations. It was found that three-quarters of the women in the sample had given birth to children, however, 88.4% were no longer playing the role of primary caregiver upon incarceration. Nearly 61% of respondents claimed that social services had taken at least one child away, and 38.2% claimed that they had voluntarily given their children away. Reasons for no longer having custody varied, but the majority of women (70%) reported that drug and alcohol abuse was a major factor. Further, it was found that women in the sample were characterized by insecure attachment styles. Characteristics of personality disorders were present in over 73% of the sample. Results showed a high rate of abuse in childhood by primary caregivers, high levels of parental rejection, and low levels of parental warmth. In addition, participants reported unstable relationships with the fathers of their children. Further, the presence of an insecure attachment style was related to higher mean number of personality disorder characteristics, higher reported means of maternal and paternal rejection, and higher reported means of emotional and physical abuse by fathers. Impression management was found to be an issue with the respect to the majority of the measured utilized in the research. The goal of this research was to attain a greater understanding of the interpersonal difficulties of the female offender population, and how family, romantic, and peer relationships are related to parenting difficulties for these women. These issues, as well as limitations surrounding the use of current attachment measures, are discussed herein.

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