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Social Work and Criminal Justice: The Uneasy Alliance

Reamer, Frederic G
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) In Criminal Justice: Retribution vs. Restoration. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work 23(1/2): 213-231.

We shall begin with the principal, and complicated, conclusion: Regrettably, the social work profession has largely abandoned the criminal justice field. That is not to say that social workers are not employed in criminal justice settings. Certainly they are. Significant numbers of social workers earn their living as probation and parole offices, caseworkers in public defender offices, counselors in correctional institutions and halfway houses, and so on. As a profession, however, social work no longer has a major presence in the criminal justice field (Gibelman and Schervish, 1993). Relatively few social workers embark on their professional education with the aim of employment in the criminal justice field. Virtually no courses in social work education programs focus explicitly or comprehensively on criminal justice (Knox and Robers, 2002; McNeece and Roberts, 1997). Workshops offered at professional conferences or continuing education seminars rarely focus on criminal justice issues per se. And, relatively little serious scholarship on criminal justice issues is authored by social workers.
Interestingly, this has not always been the state of affairs. Earlier in the profession’s history, social workers were much more visible and vocal participants in dialogue, debate, research, and practice related to criminal justice. Ideally—in light of social work’s unique perspectives on practice and social problems, and the profession’s noble value base—the profession will reclaim its preoccupation with criminal justice. (author’s abstract)


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