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Abolitionist Social Work  

Noor Toraif and Justin C. Mueller

Abolitionist social work is a theoretical framework and political project within the field of social work and an extension of the project of carceral abolitionism more broadly. Abolitionists seek to abolish punishment, prisons, police, and other carceral systems because they view these as being inherently destructive systems. Abolitionists argue that these carceral systems cause physiological, cognitive, economic, and political harms for incarcerated people, their families, and their communities; reinforce White supremacy; disproportionately burden the poor and marginalized; and fail to produce justice and healing after social harms have occurred. In their place, abolitionists want to create material conditions, institutions, and forms of community that facilitate emancipation and human flourishing and consequently render prisons, police, and other carceral systems obsolete. Abolitionist social workers advance this project in multiple ways, including critiquing the ways that social work and social workers are complicit in supporting or reinforcing carceral systems, challenging the expansion of carceral systems and carceral logics into social service domains, dismantling punitive and carceral institutions and methods of responding to social harms, implementing nonpunitive and noncarceral institutions and methods of responding to social harms, and strengthening the ability of communities to design and implement their own responses to social conflict and harm in the place of carceral institutions. As a theoretical framework, abolitionist social work draws from and extends the work of other critical frameworks and discourses, including anticarceral social work, feminist social work, dis/ability critical race studies, and transformative justice.

Article

Black Lives Matter  

Mildred Delozia and Charles M. S. Birore

Black Lives Matter (BLM), which led to the Black Lives Matter movement (BLMM), has been described as a movement with a global following. The movement is aligned with the social work profession’s purpose and values. The social work profession is a human rights profession and has a history of involvement with movements, beginning with the settlement house movement in the late 19th century. The BLMM frames its narrative based on human rights and espouses an agenda that calls out injustice in all facets of social justice. Therefore, a central aim is to understand the BLMM from multiple perspectives. Definitions, theoretical perspectives, and types of social movements are presented, and then the framework of social movements is used to understand the BLMM. Finally, the BLMM is examined in relation to historical social movements, advocacy organizations, and criminal justice reform.

Article

Deinstitutionalization in Macro Practice  

Steven P. Segal

The deinstitutionalization policy sought to replace institutional care for populations in need of care and control with prosocial community-based alternatives. U.S. institutional populations, however, have increased since the policy’s inception by 205%. As implemented, with the assistance of advocacy and cost-cutting factions, it has succeeded only in enabling the divestiture of state responsibility for target groups. It sought to prevent unnecessary admission and retention in institutions. As implemented, deinstitutionalization initiated a process that involved a societal shift in the type of institutions and institutional alternatives used to house its target groups, often referred to as trans-institutionalization. For many in need of institutional placements, it has succeeded in preventing all admissions, expanding admissions for others. In seeking to develop community alternatives for housing, treating, and habilitating or rehabilitating its target groups, it has succeeded in establishing a variety of alternative living arrangements and showcase and model programs illustrating what can be done; yet, it has failed to deliver on investments in such programs to serve the majority of its target groups. It has resulted in the abandonment of substantial numbers to homelessness. It has been documented, from political, economic, legal, and social perspectives, how this policy has affected the care and control of populations such as older adults, children, people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, people under correctional-system supervision, and, more recently, individuals without a home. Suggestions for a truer implementation of deinstitutionalization’s initial aspirations are available.

Article

Smart Decarceration  

Carrie Pettus

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.

Article

Conflict Theory for Macro Practice  

Susan P. Robbins and George S. Leibowitz

Conflict theory encompasses several theories that share underlying assumptions about interlocking systems of oppression and how they are maintained. The relevance of Marx’s theory of class conflict, C. Wright Mills’s power elite, and pluralist interest group theory are all important to understand and address social and economic gaps and informing policy for macro practice. Conflict theory can provide an understanding of health disparities, racial differences in mortality rates, class relationships associated with negative outcomes, poverty, discrimination in criminal justice, as well as numerous factors that are broadly associated with inequality embedded in social structures. Social workers play a significant role in addressing disparities in research, curricula, primary and secondary intervention, and public policy, and conflict theory can provide the framework necessary to enrich this understanding.

Article

Drug Policy Reform  

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.

Article

Racial Profiling and Policing Black Communities  

Joshua Kirven

Strained police-community relations are not new to distressed and black communities. However, recent decades of modern-day policing have become a challenging, stressful job for officers in terms of safety and social order, job performance, and being recorded (often on cell phones) and quickly judged by the public. This article looks at racial profiling, implicit bias, and how the heavy hand of order-maintenance policing is used to the detriment of black communities, especially black males. The relevance of contact theory will be discussed in terms of its relevance for reaching mutual ground between black males and police officers. This article offers practical strategies for (a) social workers (community practitioners), (b) black males and citizens of color , and ( c) police officers themselves. For officers specifically, this potential awareness can lead to healthier, neutral experiences with black males leading to positive policing of black communities.

Article

Prisoner Re-entry  

Peter C. Treitler and Beth Angell

Each year in the United States, more than 600,000 individuals transition from prisons back to the community upon release. This transition process, referred to as prisoner re-entry, is often fraught with challenges as individuals who in many cases already faced barriers to opportunity prior to incarceration are further marginalized because of the collateral consequences of incarceration. Common challenges experienced by released prisoners include difficulty securing stable housing and employment, limited social support, mental and physical health problems, barriers to social and political participation, and the stigma of a criminal record. Not surprising given the barriers to successful reintegration, recidivism rates are high, and more than half of released prisoners are re-incarcerated within five years. Although punitive approaches were dominant in the United States criminal justice system from the 1970s through the early 2000s, there has been a move toward a more rehabilitative approach since that time, resulting in policy changes that reduce incarceration and support reentry, and expansion of services for prisoners before and after release. Although relatively few social workers are employed in criminal justice settings, the ripple effects of incarceration on social and health outcomes imply that social workers employed in a wide variety of settings can expect to regularly encounter individuals who are at various points in the re-entry process, or families and significant others who are affected secondarily. Social workers will be better prepared to assist formerly incarcerated individuals with an awareness of the issues faced by this population, and the unique barriers they experience in accessing housing, employment, and other resources. This article therefore aims to provide an overview of prisoner re-entry, with a focus on matters relevant to social work researchers and practitioners. As a boundary-spanning profession, social work is ideally positioned to propel forward approaches that prioritize promoting social capital, strengthening communities that receive former prisoners, and adopting a strengths-based lens to rehabilitation and promoting desistance from crime.

Article

Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System  

Henrika McCoy and Emalee Pearson

Racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, more commonly known as disproportionate minority contact (DMC), are the overrepresentation, disparity, and disproportionate numbers of youth of color entering and moving deeper into the juvenile justice system. There has been some legislative attention to the issue since the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) and most recently with attempts in 2017 to reauthorize the Act. Originally focused solely on confinement, it became clear by 1988 there was disproportionality at all decision points in the juvenile justice system, and the focus changed to contact. DMC most commonly is known to impact Black and Hispanic youth, but a closer look reveals how other youth of color are also impacted. Numerous factors have been previously identified that create DMC, but increasingly factors such as zero-tolerance in schools and proactive policing in communities are continuing to negatively impact reduction efforts. Emerging issues indicate the need to consider society’s demographic changes, the criminalization of spaces often occupied by youth of color, and gender differences when creating and implementing strategies to reduce DMC.

Article

School-Based Truancy Courts  

Fayneese Miller

Truancy, or unexcused chronic absenteeism from school, has been linked to school dropout, early onset criminal behavior, drug use, and other negative behaviors. Given the negative impact of truancy on the future outlook for students and the potential costs for society, many communities have begun to identity programs or collaborations that might reduce truancy and improve academic achievement of students. An increasingly key partner in such efforts is the courts. Truancy is defined as a legal term and the role school-based or affiliated truancy courts play in truancy is significant. The Stop Truancy Reduction Program in the United States needs to be emphasized as a model for the ways in which courts can partner with school personnel, social workers, and other mental health counselors to address truancy and its associated problems.