Social Workers and the Criminal Justice System

"Have social workers become so integrated into the criminal justice system that they no longer advocate for true social justice?"

"Are problem-solving courts becoming BIG BROTHER, with very little room for client self-determination and free will?"

Those are some of the tough questions I received earlier this week at an event I attended at Hunter College's School of Social Work.

The symposium, entitled "Problem Solving Courts: Creating a Social Work Practice, Research and Educational Agenda" brought together social workers, administrators, government officials, mental health agencies, judges and prosecutors for a discussion of the role the social work profession can play in the criminal justice system.

It has become increasingly evident that social workers are an important component of problem-solving courts, even if the social work field has been a little slow to catch up with changing times. The symposium's main objective was to develop a social work educational agenda, one that would help promote research and 'best practices’ within the criminal justice system.

I sat on a panel with John Megaw, deputy project director for the Harlem Community Justice Center and Raye Barbieri, the director of implementation at the Center for Court Innovation.

We talked individually about our current programs and how social work has informed our work. I shared how I had to grow into my role as a social worker working within the constraints of the criminal justice system. There was a time when I would tell my clients that I was not part of the court system, but that I only provided the social services. I honestly believed that I could not be as effective in motivating change if a client associated me with a system that has been viewed as intimidating, adversarial, punitive and coercive.

It’s been ten years and I no longer need that disclaimer. I can be part of this system without feeling like I am foregoing the principals, values and ethics that social work is founded on, especially when this criminal justice system continues to create innovative approaches to social issues.

“As social workers, we are taught to meet our clients where they are at," said Lucille Jackson, the Project Director and Clinical Director of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court. "Well, where they are at is jail, and their lives have become chaotic and unmanageable. This arrest can be used as the intervention they need and would not have other wise received.”

Overall, everyone agreed that social workers who work in these types of settings develop and bring a specific set of skills that are needed to work in problem solving courts. I believe that we social workers, along with other human service providers, play an important role in the courts, and without those skills there would be less successful outcomes all around.

Comments

L. Kardos said…
Maria,
I just came across your comment dated 4/25/07 when I was doing some research for a conference - I am most interested in your symposium's main objective: to develop social work education agenda to promote research and best practices within the CJ system. is there anyway I can get info on that - I am a professor of SW and would like to integrate curriculum along this line. Thanks,
Linda Kardos, Georgian Court University, Lakewood, NJ
Al lee said…
I tend to agree with the first scenario. Social Workers should be Advocates for their Clients and in that role the Criminal Justice system is 180 degrees out of phase

Social Work not Law Enforcement
kiramatali shah said…
Work at home jobs can be hard to trust. That's why we research and publish only the best of the best... carefully pre-screened, 100% scam-free work at home jobs you can depend on. No get rich quick schemes. No scams. Just 100% real work at home jobs
www.onlineuniversalwork.com
Jeff said…
While searching some good information about social work I came across to your blog and I have read this post, I think CJ system in social work should be good for social workers which help social workers to solve their clients problem.

Thanks for the information !

:)

I'm learning atschool of social work to wannabe social service worker.