Friday, January 14, 2022: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
Cluster: Crime and Criminal Justice
Stephen Edward McMillin, PhD, Saint Louis University
Terry Wolfer, PhD, University of South Carolina
Social work scholars working in criminal justice have called for research that attends to strengths-based approaches to assessment and investigates risk and protective factors for justice-involved individuals and returning citizens (Barnes-Lee & Campbell, 2020). Social work scholars have also noted that currently we remain unable to explain disparities in outcome for minority groups involved with the criminal justice system, especially for Black, male returning citizens (Mahoney & Chowdhury, 2021). At the same time, as of April 2021, the USA has seen a sharp increase in violent crime, with 63 of the 66 largest police jurisdictions reporting an average 33% increase in violent crime over the past year (Tucker & Nickeas, 2021). Criminologists estimate that in 2020 the USA experienced the largest increase in the urban homicide rate since the mid-1990s (Mangual, 2021), with cities such as St. Louis experiencing the highest homicide rate since 1970 (Heffernan, 2021). However, cities such as Newark, St. Paul, and St. Petersburg, which turned to well-implemented community policing and local recruitment of police in this time, saw much lower increases in their homicide rates in 2020 (Cherry, 2021). Little is known about how best to ameliorate existing disparities in the US criminal justice system while addressing the current sharp increases in urban crime. Promoting smart decarceration has been identified as one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work, and social workers are working to reduce incarceration in ways that protect public safety and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The ongoing gaps in the literature noted above highlight the need for ongoing social work and criminal justice research that investigates the experiences of minority communities and returning citizens. This symposium investigates these experiences through three papers using qualitative research methods to investigate in-depth what racially diverse urban dwellers and returning citizens highlight as behavioral and structural factors and issues that point to promising outcomes in urban safety and reentry for the U.S. criminal justice system. The first paper reports findings from a three-year ethnography examining neighbor perceptions of risk and protective factors for neighborhood safety and stability in a racially diverse, rapidly developing St. Louis neighborhood. The second paper reports experiences of racially diverse returning citizens who have experienced homelessness, highlighting those factors which increased their challenges as well as their successes in navigating post-release life over one year. The third paper investigates how returning citizens experienced risk and protective factors in their daily lives after completing federal probation supervision, highlighting aspects of probation supervision that both to adhered as well as diverged from typical norms and regulations. Together, these papers illustrate how members of racially diverse urban communities and returning citizens experience strengths to build on in social work and criminal justice, as well as risks and problems to shape ongoing social research.
* noted as presenting author
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