The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Social Work, Social Justice and the Challenge of Criminalization

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 1:30 PM-3:15 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Crime and Criminal Justice
Symposium Organizer:
Laura Abrams, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
Laura Abrams, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
This symposium investigates the tensions and dilemmas that emerge at the points of engagement between the distinct fields of social work and law enforcement within an era of rising criminalization. The U.S. currently leads the world in incarceration, with 2.2 billion persons currently in prisons or jails. The five-fold increase in rates of incarceration since the 1970s and racially disproportionate sentencing have raised public concerns regarding the negative consequences of the last forty years of U.S. penal policy (The Sentencing Project, 2013). One result of this phenomenon has been the increasing application of criminal justice solutions to a variety of social work arenas such as mental health, community violence, substance abuse and youth discipline. Social work interventions have been adopted by or integrated into an increasing number of forensic contexts with important and rapidly changing implications for forensic social work and social workers. Likewise, rising rates of criminalization have resulted in shifting socio-economic conditions, some of which have enhanced vulnerabilities of already at-risk populations.

What does the current state of the criminal justice system mean for social workers whose concern is the wellbeing of oppressed people and communities? What does this mean for social workers directly engaged with the criminal justice system? What are the implications for social welfare systems and social work as a field?

The papers featured in this symposium examine these questions from a variety of perspectives. The first paper employs a comparative historical case study to examine the shifting relationship between social work, social movement and the criminal justice system as domestic violence first emerged as a critical social problem. The second paper explores the consequences of competing processes that simultaneously legitimate and resist service system coordination within the contemporary context of Sexual Assault Response Teams, which bring together rape crisis centers, criminal justice, and health care systems. The third paper focuses on the complex social welfare implications of contemporary decarceration reforms in California resulting from the recent Supreme Court mandate to reduce the state’s bloated prison population.

These three research papers and moderated discussion offer a timely opportunity for social work researchers to take into account the complex relationship between social work and the criminal justice system; the implications of penal policy on various stakeholders including service users, social workers, policy makers and law enforcement actors; and the critical role of social work research in documenting, analyzing and ameliorating the effects of criminalization and over-criminalization in our social environment.

* noted as presenting author
Mistaking Coordination for Change: Sexual Assault Response Teams
Carrie A. Moylan, PhD, State University of New York at Binghamton
See more of: Symposia