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Criminal Justice: Overview  

Michael C. Gearhart

The American criminal justice system is comprised of four main components: law enforcement, the judiciary, corrections, and legislature. These components work together to investigate crimes, arrest individuals, weigh evidence of guilt, monitor individuals who are found guilty, and make laws. Though the criminal justice system is meant to administer justice in an equitable manner, a number of controversial policies and practices exist within the criminal justice system. These practices are typically rooted in historical biases that continue to create disparities today. Social work has a long history of reforming the criminal justice system. However, modern disparities illustrate that there is still work to be done. The skills of macro social workers are foundational to present-day advocacy efforts and emerging criminal justice practice, highlighting the enduring significance of macro social work practice in criminal justice reform.

Article

Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System  

Susan A. McCarter

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.