After a period of mass incarceration that spanned the 1970s through the 2010s, the United States remains the leading incarcerator in the world. Incarceration rates in the United States outpace those of other countries by several hundred per 100,000. Incarceration rates began to decline slightly in 2009, when there was a loss of fiscal, political, and moral will for mass incarceration policy and practices. First, the onset of smart decarceration approaches, the historical context from which smart decarceration stems, and the societal momentum that led to the conceptualization of smart decarceration are described. Smart decarceration is a lead strategy in social work that has been adopted by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare as one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work for the decade 2015–2025. Finally, an overview of the current status of smart decarceration and details shifts and initiatives to pursue at the intersection of social work and smart decarceration is provided.
Sheila P. Vakharia
Social workers are uniquely qualified to be effective drug policy advocates for effective and equitable policies through their commitment to advancing social welfare and promoting social justice. The prohibitionist antidrug policies that began at the turn of the 20th century have been a key driver for the criminalization of millions of Americans over time, a disproportionate number of whom have been people of color. The period beginning with President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” in addition to contributing to inequality and marginalization, has exacerbated a number of public health and safety harms, suggesting that past policy approaches have not met their intended aims. The North American opioid overdose crisis in the early 21st century is presented as an illustrative case study because its persistence and mounting death toll exemplify the challenges with the current model of drug prohibition. Areas for macro social work interventions include legislative advocacy through lobbying, provision of expert testimony in legislative hearings, engagement in reform through litigation, involvement in social action, and performing policy analysis and research.
Laurie A. Walker and Turquoise Skye Devereaux
Historical trauma originated with the social construction of subordinate group statuses through migration, annexation of land, and colonialism. The consequences of creating subordinate group statuses include genocide, segregation, and assimilation. Settler colonialism takes land with militaristic control, labels local inhabitants as deviant and inferior, then violently confines and oppresses the original occupants of the land. Confinement includes relocation, restriction of movement, settlement of lands required for sustenance, as well as confinement in orphanages, boarding schools, and prisons. Historical trauma includes suppression of language, culture, and religion with the threat of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Original inhabitant abuse often results in issues with health, mental health, substance abuse, and generational emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Culturally safe (engagement that respects identity) and trauma-informed social work practices acknowledge the systemic causes of disparities in groups experiencing marginalization and oppression and focus on healing and addressing systemic causes of disparities.
M. Aryana Bryan, Valerie Hruschak, Cory Dennis, Daniel Rosen, and Gerald Cochran
Opioid-related deaths by overdoses quadrupled in the United States from the years 1999 to 2015. This rise in mortality predominately occurred in the wake of historic changes in pain management practices and aggressive marketing of opioid medications such as oxycontin. Prescription opioid misuse and subsequent addiction spilled over to heroin and fentanyl for many. This drug epidemic differed from others in its impact among non-Hispanic whites, leading to drastic changes in how the United States views addiction and chooses to respond. This article offers an overview of opioid use disorder (OUD), its treatment and its relationship with pain. It also discusses special populations affected and provides insight into future directions for research and social work practice surrounding opioid management in the United States. Because of the profession’s emphasis on the person and social environment as well as its focus on vulnerable and oppressed populations, social work plays a critical role in addressing the crisis.
Lori K. Holleran Steiker
This article provides an overview of screening adolescents for substance use, misuse, and substance use disorders. It covers the practical and empirical considerations when working with youth around issues of drugs and alcohol. Four reliable and valid screening tools are discussed: Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), CRAFFT, Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI), and Problem-Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers (POSIT). The tools and techniques are drawn from evidence-based theoretical frames and practices, including close attention to the recent adolescent (Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral, and Treatment (SBIRT) resources.
Jessica M. Black
Scientific findings from social sciences, neurobiology, endocrinology, and immunology highlight the adaptive benefits of positive emotion and activity to both mental and physical health. Positive activity, such as engagement with music and exercise, can also contribute to favorable health outcomes. This article reviews scientific evidence of the adaptive benefits of positive emotion and activity throughout the life course, with examples drawn from the fetal environment through late adulthood. Specifically, the text weaves together theory and empirical findings from an interdisciplinary literature to describe how positive emotion and activity help to build important cognitive, social, and physical resources throughout the life course.
Julie Schroeder and Bridgette Harris
Drug courts were developed to facilitate treatment for criminal offenders with substance abuse problems. Drug courts operate using dual paradigms of healing and discipline via treatment, social service resources, and case management for healing, and judicial sanctions and criminal justice interventions in efforts to initiate change resulting in sobriety and no further criminal behavior. The key goals of most drug courts are to reduce drug use and associated criminal behavior by engaging and retaining drug-involved offenders in programs and treatment services; to concentrate expertise about drug cases into a single courtroom; to address other defendant needs through clinical assessment and effective case management; and to free judicial, prosecutorial and public defense resources for adjudicating non-drug cases. It is vital that social work students be introduced to drug courts and how they function for students to gain better understanding of how addiction can bring their clients into contact with the criminal justice system. Drug courts are ideal settings for internship placements so that students can get hands-on experience in a court setting and assist clients using a therapeutic jurisprudence model.
Shaun M. Eack
Mental health research is the study of the causes and correlates of mental health and illness, approaches to improve mental well-being, and the delivery of effective mental health services to those in need. Social workers have been leading researchers in each of these areas of inquiry, and this article provides an overview of the broad field of mental health research, with particular emphasis on the contributions of social work. A biopsychosocial review of research on the correlates of mental health and illness is provided, followed by a synthesis of studies examining pharmacological and psychosocial approaches to improving mental health. Research on mental health services is then presented, with a focus on studies seeking to improve access to quality care and reduce service disparities. Key directions for future mental health research include identifying specific causal predictors of mental illness, improving existing treatments, and disseminating advances to the community.
Lia Nower and Kyle Caler
Gambling disorder is a significant public health concern. The recent and continued proliferation of land-based and interactive gambling opportunities has increased both accessibility and acceptability of gambling in the United States and abroad, resulting in greater and more varied participation. However, there is currently no designated federal funding for prevention, intervention, treatment, or research, and states are left to adopt varying standards on an ad hoc basis. Social workers receive little or no training in screening or treating problem gamblers, though research suggests that a significant proportion of those with mental health and other addictive disorders also gamble excessively. Raising awareness about the nature and scope of gambling disorder and its devastating implications for families and children is a first-step toward integrating gambling into prevention, assessment and treatment education in social work. This, in turn, will increase the chances of early identification and intervention across settings and insure that social workers can lend a knowledgeable and credible voice to addressing this hidden addiction.
Tonya Edmond and Karen Lawrence
Since its inception in 1987, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been the subject of lively debate and controversy, rigorous research both nationally and internationally, and is now used by licensed practitioners across six continents as an effective treatment of trauma symptoms and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The aim of this entry is to provide social work practitioners and researchers with a description of the treatment approach for adults and children, EMDR’s development and theoretical basis, a review of controversial issues, and an overview of the evidence of effectiveness of EMDR across trauma types and populations.