Date of Paper


Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)


Social Work

First Advisor

Colin Hollidge


Social Work


Between 1980 and 2011, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700% (The Sentencing Project, 2017; 2015). Since The Second Chance Act was passed in 2008, the women’s prison population has grown outpacing men’s, grown while men’s declined, or declined proportionally less than men’s in seventy-percent of states, according to the Prison Policy Initiative (Sawyer, 2018). This paper explores the reasons for this disproportionate growth by outlining public policy developments and pathways women take to incarceration that are intertwined with trauma, mental health, and substance use in ways that men’s pathways are not. Furthermore, since the majority of incarcerated women are mothers and reside with their children prior to incarceration (Swavola, Riley, & Subramanian, 2016; Glaze & Maruschak, 2008), the collateral damage caused to society by removing these women from their families and communities is outlined. The practice of separating women who give birth while incarcerated from their newborns is also discussed alongside an evaluation of the current programming within the criminal justice system that some states have implemented to prevent this separation. Finally, research on the experiences of incarcerated women is consolidated with attachment theory to outline necessary clinical components of an alternative to incarceration or preventative program for justice-involved women and their infants utilizing Yale University’s Minding the Baby, a highly successful interdisciplinary home visiting program, as a model. An argument is made for the compounding fiscal, societal, and mental health benefits of reforming the current systemic response to postpartum incarcerated women and their infants.

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