Voices of the incarcerated father: Struggling to live up to fatherhood

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Despite overwhelming evidence that imprisonment has negative consequences for family members, very few studies have explored the mechanisms by which incarceration affects families and children. In particular, the father role is crucial to family members. Together with the fact that there have been few studies on incarcerated fathers and their relationships with significant others, this study draws on the theoretical bases and predictions of the identity theory to explore qualitatively the extent of expression of the fatherhood identity and the struggles and obstacles they experience in expressing it. This study documents qualitative reports of ex-prisoners’ behavioural responses in resolving the negative emotions (if any) induced by the discrepancy between their internalized standards and the appraisals of significant others. A total of 17 Chinese participants were recruited to take part in semi-structured interviews via referrals from social service centres in Hong Kong. Results were consistent with the predictions of identity theory. That is, ex-prisoners experienced an inability to meet their fatherhood identity standard during and after incarceration, and as a result their identity standards were weakened or they experienced withdrawal of fatherhood identity. However, participants were additionally found to employ positive strategies actively in coping with their compromised identity, suggesting avenues for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-79
Number of pages20
JournalCriminology and Criminal Justice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Coping
  • fatherhood
  • identity
  • impact of imprisonment
  • incarceration
  • prisoners
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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