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Criminal Justice and Social Work

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     Criminal Justice and social work play a big role together in many aspects, so why is there such a big need for social workers and does it take so long to fill the openings of such an important job. What are some of the alternatives we can do to fill the need for social workers.

     There are four main areas in the criminal justice system where social workers play a big part (1) Jails (2) prison (3) parole/probation and (4) the court system. I will go over the role of each, the requirements needed to get hired and where some alternatives could be put in place to help fill the numbers that are needed in each area.


Looking back at the history of the criminal justice system and where social workers became a part of the criminal justice system. Social work can be traced back to early as the nineteenth century as playing a role in the criminal justice system. According to Roberts and Springe, 2007) social work has had a defined role since 1904 serving those who were incarcerated. Since 1904 social work has become an essential part of the national criminal justice system, they are normally referred to as one of three titles (1) criminal justice social worker (2) correctional social worker (3) forensic social worker. Over the last fifth teen to twenty years major changes have took place in the criminal justice system that have raised the prison population higher and higher , there are currently 2.3 million prisoners on the three levels (federal, state and local).

Once the prisons became over crowded due to prison reentry of prior offenders , programs were set in place for the reentry offenders which is where the social workers biggest part comes into play. These programs set a special group of services that include housing, employment, education and behavioral health care that address a lot of the problems of most inmates who reenter into prison. Social workers are specifically trained and qualified to provide such services to help address these problems so reentry levels drop.  

 Though social workers have became significant in the criminal justice system, their role has had little impact on how the criminal justice policies and leadership roles. Schools all over the nations who teach social work are provided practical and academic training to prepare them for the complex psychosocial needs of offenders in the criminal justice system. I want to mention a few people from the 1800 are who help make social work part of the criminal justice system and became an important part of history. The first person I found and has been mentioned in several of my criminal justice class over the past four years.

History advocates of social work in criminal justice

 John Augustus he was a shoe maker from Boston who believed juveniles who committed minor crimes were able to be rehabilitated if they were not housed with adults. H said the crimes were minor but the punishment was harsh. His method today is known as probationary rehabilitation.  

 Next is Jane Addams also from the 1800’s from Chicago. During this time like most Midwest and northeast urban areas there was a large immigration of Europeans. She decided to travel through Europe and after doing so she came back to Chicago and set up the “Hull House”. The Hull House offered social services and community development programs to those communities who were at risk and high crime levels due to poverty and lack of human living.

  Dorothea L. Dix was another 1800’s notable in social work of the criminal justice system. She was upset with how the mentally ill were treated and housed with those who had no mental problems. So she lobbied the government for Five thousand acres of public land to set up mental intuitions.   The government had responded with twice as much land but President Pierce vetoed the legislation. However Dix debate did succeed with setting forth era mental health institutional reform at both state and local levels.

There is a long list of others who brought social work and the help they brought to the criminal justice system, by help the people who committed crimes because of life style and limited means to survival.

Problems causing the numbers of incarceration:

There are three major issues that the criminal justice system faces when it comes to jail and prisons. These Three issues cause overcrowding, future problems for the inmate and for the public when the inmate released. Here is a look at the three issues a little more in depth.

 Substance Abuse:

 This a big problem for the criminal justice system and the reason why the prisons and jails are so crowded. The numbers are on the rise and seem to keep going up, example in 2004 there were 1.2 million people incarcerated in US jails and prisons. Most these inmates are expected to have a substance abuse problem. Health news did a survey ad found that seventy percent of the inmates incarcerated are serving time for a drug related offense and use regularly.  Over eighty percent of inmates in state prison and seventy percent of Federal prisons inmates reported using drugs prior, half of the state inmates and one third of state inmates say they were under influence when they committed the crime. (Mumola 1999). In 1980 there were 19,000 inmates in prisons/ jails for drug offenses and by 1999 the number was up to 251,000 (US Department of justice, bureau of justice statistics. The reason it was believed to have raised so much was changes in criminal behavior, new drug laws, stronger drug enforcement efforts and stricter sentencing policies.

Mental Illness:

Mental illness is the next big issue that law enforcement faces. About seven percent of people with a serious or persistent mental illness will enter the criminal justice system every year. Some people find it shocking that people with mental illness get involved with the law enforcement but when these people become delusional or psychotic state they become a “nuisance”. (Minds on the edge .com) Once in prison or jail, people with mental illness often have difficulty obtaining their medication or other treatment. Their condition, which might be degrading due to the lack of treatment and the stress of the situation, can make it impossible for them to comply with the rigid rules in the regulated, restrictive environment of a prison and because of this when they are released they have a hard time adjusting to treatment providers and trouble adapting to probation rules. Some times when the prisoner is being released they only get two weeks of medication and it could take a long time to get into a mental health provider.



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