The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Examining Stigma Management in the Lives of Formerly Incarcerated Mothers

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 2:30 PM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Alana Gunn, MA, MPP, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: This study examines the lives of formerly incarcerated women who are participating in substance abuse treatment or have recently completed treatment. More specifically this study seeks to understand the various forms of stigma women encounter as they seek to reunite with their families and access community and professional services. Previous research efforts have found that individuals with experiences of incarceration, mental illness or substance abuse anticipate and face stigmas when returning to their communities and seeking supports. However, very little of this research focuses on individuals dealing with multiple stigmatized identities. Moreover, of the re-entry research exploring the lives of individuals with incarceration experiences, very little of this research explores the lives and challenges faced by women. This study addresses these substantive gaps in research on stigma and re-entry by examining the lives of formerly incarcerated women facing a myriad of stigmas.

Method: Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, in depth semi- structured interviews were conducted over a 6 month period with 35 formerly incarcerated women and 7 staff members. The data was analyzed using a grounded dimensional approach which allowed the researcher to constantly compare emergent themes and “theories” related to stigma management throughout the data collection stage to the writing stage.  Further, the researcher evaluated and organized data using ATLAS.ti and thematic conceptual matrices to identify common and contrasting patterns discussed throughout the women’s stigma management narratives.

Results: The analyses yielded descriptive information on the women’s various offenses, substance abuse histories, familial dynamics, current living situations as well as more complex information such as their stigma management strategies.  Overall women utilized stigma management strategies ranging from withdrawal and isolation to more proactive strategies of confrontation based on many different context and person centered reasons. Some of the overarching reasons revealed spoke to the women’s relationship with the individual or entity, which stigmatized identity was being revealed, the anticipated benefits or losses that would incur as a result of disclosure, the kind of culture the disclosure was occurring in and their perceptions of their social support systems.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides insights to social workers and social justice advocates who work with re-entry populations. Specifically, it gives in depth insights into the how stigmas attached to women’s various intersecting experiences can play significant roles in how they seek support and transition back into their families and communities in the wake of incarceration. It provides insights that can inform interventions geared towards not just formerly incarcerated women, but inform interventions that assist their families. This study gives a critical look at the complexities that threaten women’s abilities to recover and heal from past traumas and forge new successful pasts. This study has significant implications for both trauma and stigma informed programming which seek to respond to the needs of formerly incarcerated women.