Annette Weiss

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2010


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





School of Nursing

Committee Chair

L. Kathleen Sekula

Committee Member

Alison Colbert

Committee Member

Anita Hufft


incarcerated mothers, forensic nursing, phenomenology



Few research studies have been conducted by nurses that focus on incarcerated women. In fact, there are a limited number of research studies with a focus on the incarcerated female by any individual group of health professionals. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the lived experience of the incarcerated woman as a mother, and to obtain an increased understanding of the meaning of her experience.


The United States has the highest per capita rate of incarcerated persons of all countries. Women are the fastest growing group of inmates and are being incarcerated at double the rate of men. Approximately 70% of incarcerated women across the nation are mothers to a minor child, and at least 50% of the women had their children residing with them prior to incarceration.

Research Design

The specific research design for this study was based on the Husserlian descriptive phenomenological method of inquiry, as interpreted by Kleiman.

Conclusions and Implications

The lived experience of the incarcerated mother incorporates the essential themes of caring, hurting, addiction, hurtful past, faith, and a secondary essential theme of tension between caring and addiction. The incarcerated mothers experience hurting related to separation from their children. However, they maintain a sense of caring for their children, which is supported by their faith in God. The incarcerated mother identifies experiencing a hurtful past. She also reports experiencing current and/or past addictions. A tension exists between caring and addiction, whereby the mothers know they have an addiction that is overshadowing the way they demonstrate caring to their child. Nurses serve as first line health care providers at correctional facilities. This study has generated new information on incarcerated mothers that may provide insight for nurses. This new description of the incarcerated mother may assist nurses in best formulating nursing interventions and providing appropriate nursing care. When helping incarcerated mothers plan for their future, nurses should use this knowledge, along with the knowledge that what the women experienced may have impacted past behaviors that possibly led to incarceration to help them make appropriate plans for their future.