It’s Turned In!

Yes, everyone, it’s done. I can hardly believe it! After almost a year of working toward this finished project, the results are in, the thesis edited, and the only thing left to do is defend it to my committee. Before I let you know how that went, I wanted to share a quick review of the results with you.


Study 1:

The aim of Study 1 was to: (1) assess the individual and incremental ability of maternal, psychological, and contextual stressors to predict new mothers’ likelihood to recidivate and (2) determine the specific stressors within each of these categories that are predictive of the recidivism rates for the new mothers.

It was hypothesized that (1) mothers experiencing heightened levels of psychological, maternal, and contextual stressors will be more likely to recidivate, and (2) these stressors will compound upon each other and increase the likelihood of recidivism for recently incarcerated new mothers.

Data collection occurred at intake, post-nutritional counseling, and postpartum. Most questions in the quantitative surveys came from the PRAMS (CDC, 2012), but other questions were taken from the CES-D (Radloff, 1977;1991), Food Stability Scale (Gary, Nord, Price, Hamilton, & Cook, 2000), and the Parenting Sense of Competence Scale (Gibaud-Wallston, J., & Wandersman, L. P., 1978).

103 women were included in the analyses. They were an average of 25 years of age (SD=4.73), 19% were first time mothers (n=20), most were single (n=74, 72%), African American (n=52, 48%), and many had a high school education or equivalency (n-75, 73%).

Variables were added and then divided by the number of variables answered to create a single measure of psychological, maternal, and contextual stress. Psychological stress was created by combining the (1) CES-D score at intake, (2) CES-D score at post-nutritional counseling, (3) CES-D score at postpartum, (4) mood disorder reported, and (5) psychological disorder reported. Maternal Stress was created by combining the variables for (1) if the child was born low birth-weight, (2) the child was born preterm, (3) the pregnancy was unplanned, (4) the child was born with medical issues, (5) the child was sent to the NICU, (6) the child was living with the participant, and (7) the reversed average of the Parental Sense of Competency Scale. Contextual Stress was created by combining (1) the reverse scored food stability scale, (2) the reverse scored social support, (3) the average life stress index score, (4) recent history of domestic abuse, and (5) drug use around the time of conception. Indicators for women with stress scores in the top quartile.

34, or 34.3% of the participants recidivated 1-12 months after the birth of their child. None of the indicators or total stress scores were significantly associated with recidivism. There was a trend between an indicator for the total combined stressors and recidivism. Only monetary stress t(94)=-2.04, p=0.04, unemployment x2 =10.53, p<0.00, and drug use at the time of conception were associated with recidivism x2 =15.94, p<0.00.

Given how much of an impact motherhood has on the lives of women, it was surprising that motherhood appeared to have no major impact on recidivism in the quantitative data. Could this be because mothers whose experiences of motherhood were positive and negative cancelled each other out? Also how exactly did these contextual experiences lead to increased likelihood of recidivation? Given these questions, a second, qualitative study was designed.


Study 2:

The aim of Study 2 was to collect narratives in the form of qualitative interviews of experiences related to motherhood, incarceration, and reentry in a population of recently incarcerated new mothers. Based on previous literature, there were three hypotheses: (1) experiences during incarceration such as access to programming will impact the mothers’ experiences of reentry, (2) mothers with stronger bonds to their children will be less likely to recidivate, and (3) the women’s narratives concerning their reentry process will feature their experiences related to motherhood.

The Follow-Up interview was mostly qualitative. Questions were largely original, with one non-original scale, the Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire (reverse scored) (Brockington, et al., 2006). Women were contacted mostly over the phone with previous participants. Fifteen women completed the Follow-Up interview. They were mostly single, African American, and unemployed, wit a high school education or equivalency (n=10, 66.7%).

6 of the 15 women who participated in the study had recidivated 1-12 months after the birth of their child. There were no significant demographic differences between women who participated in the study and those who did not. Programming was not generally thought to be associated with recidivism, though women’s answers were positive. Maternal bonding was not associated with recidivism. Most women discussed highs and lows in regards to their pregnancy and reported confidence in their ability to parent, regardless of the support they received.

The women who recidivated reported probation requirements, staying away from negative peers, and finding jobs as the biggest obstacles they faced. Women who did not recidivate cited the same factors as their biggest challenges. However, many of the women who did not recidivate discussed their success in relation to their children:

“Focusing on the baby prevents me from doing what I used to do”

“Going back is probably my biggest fear in life. The job was helpful; it was the luck of the draw to get safe housing. Going to meetings, staying off drugs, and having my son. I don’t know what I’d do without him”

“Being with my kids. I don’t want to go back. Getting out and staying clean”

Finally, when asked to connect their experiences of motherhood and reentry, six of the women thought motherhood had a positive impact on reentry, three thought it had a negative impact, and six believed it to have no impact.



Similar themes related to the importance of financial stability, overcoming drug addiction, and staying away from negative peers emerged in both the qualitative and quantitative studies. Motherhood appeared to feature most prominently in the lives of women who did not recidivate. Though motherhood did not appear to have a direct impact on rates of recidivism, a positive view of motherhood may have an impact on the women who successfully complete reentry.



I will be presenting and defending these results and this project to my committee on Thursday, May 5th. My committee includes my advisor and one of the cofounders of the Healthy Beginnings Project, Professor Danielle Dallaire. Professor Dallaire oversees the project and is a developmental psychologist. Dr. Scott Cone is the second member of my committee. Dr. Cone is a clinical psychologist who has vast applied experience within the field juvenile and adult justice systems. Finally, Professor Alison Scott brings a public health and policy viewpoint to the committee. Professor Scott has utilized qualitative methodology and explored topics related to poverty, gander, and social policies. I look forward to hearing their feedback on my thesis.


I’ll let you know how it goes!