Reflexivity in correctional research: Researcher perspectives on parenthood in a study with incarcerated parents

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Journal Article
Qualitative Social Work, 2018
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© The Author(s) 2018. As incarceration rates rise worldwide, increasing numbers of parents are separated from their children. Researchers have studied the psychosocial impact on inmates and their families extensively. However, few researchers have examined how their own perspectives affect the collection and interpretation of data, specifically about parenting in correctional settings. This paper consider methodological implications of conducting research with incarcerated mothers and fathers, employing critical reflexivity to explore researchers’ individual and collective experiences in a study in Australian correctional facilities. Using ourselves as informants, we examine how the context and life experiences of ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’ interact during interviews in a unique and emotionally charged environment. Correctional research requires careful adaptations to collect meaningful data from inmates and recognise their vulnerability as parents. The emotional content of interviews also has implications for analysing and interpreting research data. Our focus on interviewees as mothers and fathers, rather than as offenders, generated greater understanding of the needs of parents in custody. Recognising researchers’ feelings, experiences and perspectives on parenthood can enrich research with families affected by the criminal justice and child protection systems. These insights can also inform the understanding and practice of social workers, health practitioners, educators and students who work with marginalised parents and children.
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