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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

Mental Health Courts  

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

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.