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Article

Historically, U.S. policy has been characterized by long-standing ambivalence evident in the changing emphasis placed on prohibition as the aim of drug policy, and in debate about the relative merits of various approaches to drug control. Often characterized as supply reduction versus demand reduction efforts, significant changes have occurred over time in these efforts, and in the emphasis placed on them. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, U.S. drug policy adopted a more prohibitionist stance, with increased reliance on a variety of law enforcement, and even military actions, to control the supply and use of drugs, even in the face of evidence for the effectiveness of prevention and treatment, and high costs associated with the burgeoning incarceration rates.

Article

Sondra J. Fogel, M. Dwayne Smith, and Beth Bjerregaard

Capital punishment, the administration of death as a legal sanction, is a criminal-justice response to a restricted class of criminal activities that involve the killing of another human being. As a legal process, capital punishment has been modified by several landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Yet, it remains a controversial penalty with factors of race, gender, socio-economic status, mental health status of the defendant, and other extra-legal factors often attributed to the sentencing decision. Social workers are increasingly used as mitigation experts or in similar types of roles for the defense team. As a profession, social work opposes the use of capital punishment. The purpose of this entry is to provide an overview of the death penalty as it is currently practiced in the United States and to review current issues and controversies surrounding its administration.

Article

The United Nations has defined six grave violations that occur in war that impact children: killing or maiming of children, recruitment or use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access for children, and abduction of children. These violations have a myriad of negative impacts on children, including biological, psychological, and social effects. Culturally appropriate support and care provided at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels can help alleviate these impacts and help children recover from these experiences.

Article

Rudolph Alexander Jr.

The criminal justice system traces its roots to ancient times. When the 13 original colonies were formed, they brought many of the laws and legal processes from England. Traditionally, the criminal justice system is viewed as including law enforcement, judiciary, and corrections. However, state legislatures and Congress must be viewed as essential components of the criminal justice system because they pass laws that influence the other three components. A number of controversial practices and policies exist within the criminal justice system. Social work, which has had a long involvement in the criminal justice system, including spearheading the creation of the juvenile justice system in the United States, is involved in all phases of the criminal justice system.

Article

Eloise Rathbone-McCuan

Elder abuse is now recognized internationally as a social problem among the aging population. Intentional abuse, neglect, and exploitation among caregivers to frail and isolated elderly create serious risks across diverse formal and informal care settings. This field has expanded continuously since the early 1970s. Accurate prevalence and incidence rates have not been determined. There is a national system of elder victim protection operating within each state. The social work profession is legally mandated to report situations where an elderly person is suspected to be at risk of abuse. Social workers are involved in all aspects of elder abuse prevention and intervention services.

Article

Nancy A. Humphreys and Shannon Lane

Hate crimes and their traumatic repercussions are an important area for social worker intervention. This entry will examine how hate crimes are defined and handled, and the difficulties inherent in categorizing and responding to them. Collection of hate crime statistics and hate crime–related legislation are reviewed. The entry will also examine how social workers can help victims and perpetrators and influence how society conceptualizes and prevents hate crimes and their consequences.

Article

Bonnie E. Carlson

Intimate partner violence—physical, emotional, or sexual abuse experienced in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships—has emerged as a significant and complex social problem warranting the attention of social workers. Numerous risk factors have been identified in individual perpetrators and victims, as well as at the level of the relationship, community, and society. Partner violence has diverse consequences for female victims, as well as for perpetrators and children who are exposed to it. Although many female victims do seek help and end abusive relationships, seeking help from professionals such as social workers is often a last resort.

Article

Jill Theresa Messing

Intimate partner violence—the continual and systematic exercise of power and control within an intimate relationship that often also includes physical and sexual violence—has emerged as a significant and complex social problem warranting the attention of social workers. Risk and protective factors have been identified at the individual, family, community, and societal levels. Some of these risk factors for repeat and lethal violence have been organized into risk assessment instruments that can be used by social workers to educate and empower survivors. Intimate partner violence has multiple negative health and mental health consequences for female victims and their children. Social workers in all areas of practice should be prepared to intervene with victims of intimate partner violence in a culturally competent manner using a strengths-based framework.

Article

Robert G. Madden

The law is a powerful force in all aspects of contemporary American society. The legal system furnishes the context and procedures for the creation and enforcement of laws to resolve disputes, protect rights, and generally to maintain order. Social workers are expected to understand the basic workings of the legal system. Knowledge of the legal system provides the foundation to support social workers to undertake social justice initiatives, to give voice to vulnerable client populations, and to work for legal rules that support good social work practice.

Article

Matthew Epperson, Julian Thompson, and Kelli E. Canada

This article discusses the emergence, structure, and purpose of the mental health court. It details the therapeutic aspects of the mental health court and its function as a specialized-treatment court serving persons with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. Guiding themes, such as the criminalization of mental illness, therapeutic jurisprudence, and drug-treatment courts are described. It also identifies key legislation that contributed to the funding and proliferation of mental health courts. The effectiveness of mental health court, along with current criticisms regarding its impact on participants’ mental health and recidivism outcomes, are also covered. Last, social work values and the various roles of social workers in the mental health court are highlighted to demonstrate the relevance of mental health court to contemporary social work practice and intervention.

Article

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

Kristine Levan

This entry presents an overview of prison violence and how issues such as overcrowding and scarcity of resources may contribute. Exploring both collective and interpersonal levels of violence, issues such as incidents between inmates and those between inmates and staff are examined. This entry looks at the issues facing males, females, juveniles, and the mentally ill as they contend with correctional institutions and violence within these institutions. The potential effects of violent victimization are also examined, as well as potential interventions and solutions to reduce violence.

Article

Social work and criminal justice have a shared history in the United States dating back to the 19th century when their combined focus was rehabilitation. But with an increase in crime, this focus shifted to punishment and incapacitation, and a schism resulted between social work and criminal justice. Given current mass incarceration and disparities in criminal justice, social work has returned in force to this important practice. The latest Bureau of Justice Statistics research reports that 1% of all adult males living in the United States were serving a prison sentence of a year or longer (Carson & Anderson, 2016) and rates of diversion, arrest, sentencing (including the death penalty), incarceration, etc., vary considerably by race/ethnicity (Nellis, 2016). This entry explores race and ethnicity, current population demographics, and criminal justice statistics/data analysis, plus theories and social work-specific strategies to address racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.

Article

Janet L. Finn and Maxine Jacobson

This entry examines the concept of social justice and its significance as a core value of social work. Diverse conceptualizations of social justice and their historical and philosophical underpinnings are examined. The influence of John Rawls' perspectives on social justice is addressed as are alternative conceptualizations, such as the capabilities perspective. The roots of social justice are traced through social work history, from the Settlement House Movement to the Rank and Film Movement, Civil Rights Movement, and contemporary struggles in the context of globalization. Challenges for social justice-oriented practice in the 21st century are address. The discussion concludes with concrete example of ways in which social workers are translating principles of social justice into concrete practices.