Social Work in the Justice System

This paper explores the many facets social work provides in collaboration with the criminal justice system escaping widespread notice as well as the roles played in the judicial court systems. This paper takes a look at the point and the many purposes of forensic social work.
Covering their role in multidisciplinary mitigation teams and collaboration between social workers and lawyers in criminal defense also the type service social work practitioners provide to inmate populations; the active involvement in an inmate’s daily life both during their sentence as well as the service and assistance a forensic social worker will be providing following an inmate’s release and reintegration back into society.
A field of social work not widely publicized or acknowledged by the majority of the American population, pointing out the lack of interest in the field by the Universities offering accredited social Work degree programs and the educational opportunities lost because of the lack of acknowledgement of this field of social work practice. The Field of Forensic Social Work It’s Function in the Criminal Justice System and the Populations Who Benefit Forensic Social work is not a field widely known to students like myself.

For those majoring in Social work in colleges and universities throughout the United States this particular field of social work practice is not really offered as often as other courses like helping skills or social policy. It’s an issue I see as becoming a problem in the near future because of the field and its functions. The educational opportunities presented in teaching forensic social work are in my opinion in my opinion. Its functions alone include policy and program development. Mediation, advocacy and arbitration, teaching, training and supervision as well as ehavioral science research and analysis just to name a few.
We the students are at a loss by a lack of acknowledgement of the field Forensic Social work and it not being an offered course taught within our curriculum is a travesty to the future of the social work profession and the population forensic social workers advocate for. The objective of this paper is to bring to light a field in social work not widely publicized or acknowledged by a large majority of universities offering social work programs.
Escaping widespread notice, a substantial number of social workers function in the space in which mental health concepts and the law form a gestalt says (Hughes & O’Neil. (1983). Most of those whose social work service fall under core areas that make up the field of forensic social work don’t even know it. Why is it then, that in a field in which the services provide so much to those with so little, with a tremendous base of knowledge utilizing a broad base of skill, skill pning across many other fields not just in “basic” social work practices.
Parallel to the growing field of forensic psychiatry in the criminal justice system is the growing field of forensic social work. It’s development is dependent on that of forensic psychiatry; For this reason forensic social work it goes unobserved (Hughes, et. al. , 1983). I want to shed some much deserved light on this neglected field of service. It is a field of social work that needs to be preserved in its collaboration with the criminal justice system.
Stewart Sinclair points out that “Forensic Social Work continues to work directly with patients and to maintain a vital link between the family and the institution. ” (S. Sinclair, 2002 ,Sam Peckinpah’s forensic social work blues: will the tin star keep shining) Forensic Social work is not a field widely known to students such as myself. For those majoring in Social work in colleges and universities in the United States this particular field of social work practice is not offered as often as other courses such as helping skills or theory and practice.
It’s an issue I see as becoming a problem in the near future because of the field’s functions. The educational opportunity presented in teaching forensic social work is valuable. The functions alone include policy and program development. Mediation, advocacy and arbitration, teaching, training and supervision as well as behavioral science research and analysis just to name a few. We the students are at a loss by a lack of acknowledgement of Forensic Social work and it not being an offered course in our curriculum.
Brownell and Roberts (2002) operationally define forensic social work as ‘policies, practices and social work roles with juvenile and adult offenders and victims of crimes’ (Brownell P & Roberts AR 2002, A century of social work in criminal justice and correctional settings, Journal of Offender rehabilitation, 35 (2) 1-17, pg. 3) As times progressed a growing knowledge and understanding of mental illness and psychiatric problems became more of a deciding factor in the task of determining just and effective dispositions.
The criminal justice system is not equipped to provide the proper type of facilitation needed to accommodate. Instead judges and lawyers reached out to community mental health agencies but they too were unable to adequately provide resources needed. According to Gary Whitmer (1983) resulting from this dilemma the courts adjudicate with a sense of futility, knowing that it is not the defendant’s reasoned criminal intent but an illness that had brought him or her to court and that, if left untreated, this illness will bring the defendant back to court sooner then later.
The Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) is a not-for-profit organization that has been providing high quality appellate and post-conviction representation to indigent persons since 1988. The office of the Appellate Defenders fills an important need in the criminal justice system and advocacy for the destitute. OAD is the second longest-standing institutional indigent defense office and oldest provider of appellate representation to indigent persons convicted of felonies. (www. ppellatedefender. org ) Attorneys participate in the Office of Appellate Defender’s comprehensive training program, which focuses on appellate advocacy, client relations, procedural and substantive criminal law. The up and coming collaboration between the fields of Public defense and forensic social work is monumental in the need for holistic trial representation.
But the need for holistic representation does not end at sentencing. According to The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers describes the ”catch basin for the reakdown of social services inside communities” depicting the defense function within the criminal justice system given by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The assistance that social workers can provide is an appellate office takes on the role of assisting with the legal representation thorough investigation, mitigation and counseling. Social workers also provide institutional advocacy on behalf of clients. Another important function provided is that of case management, support and necessary referrals for clients preparing for release. (M. Rothstien, Reaching through the Prison Wall; 2000)
The value of social works to assist in the interview, evaluation, crisis response, short-term case work, negotiation and referrals in trial offices is admirable. For criminal justice offices, social worker involvement practice generally focuses on investigations and mitigation; the importance of forensic social work in the role of legal representation. . (M. Rothstine; 2000) The National Institute of Justice research in action journal issue from February 1999 gives an in-depth focus on case management in the criminal justice system.
The services provided are much like if not identical to the processes thought by Professor Blake in theory and Practice I. These include intake, assessment, classification, referral, intervention, monitoring, evaluation and advocacy. (National Institution of Justice/ Feburary1999 p. 3) All of which are association with the majority if not all of the fields that make up Social Work. During the assessment stage of the case management process the interview leads into the documentation of individual history. Each individual walking this earth has a unique story to tell.
And these stories paint the picture that portrays where we are in our lives at any given point in time. The job of a multidisciplinary mitigation team is to link client’s history, life circumstances, and the commission of the crime accurately and clearly. Often complex, it reveals that the client’s behavior stems from a number of integrating factors. In their article, “From Misery to Mission: Forensic Social Work on Multidisciplinary Mitigation Teams,” Guin, Noble and Merrill(2003) provide mitigating factors and circumstances inking characteristics and history to criminal behavior in the representation on behalf of defendants in capital cases (Guin, Noble, and Merrill/ From Misery to Mission: Forensic Social Works on Multidisciplinary Mitigation teams) “The capital mitigation process comes to life when a social worker, using a life history model of investigation, assumes the role of mitigation specialist, who, by capitalizing on social work theory and research, practice knowledge and skills yields vital information that, through objective presentation of fact, guides sentencing decisions. (p. 424)
Social Workers are given the task of one of the most important components of building an understanding of the individual you’re advocating for and conceptualizing a rundown of an individual’s life history. Documenting of a defendant’s life history a forensic social worker is gaining insight on possible links to the development of criminal behavior. The intake is a way of establishing a rapport and may involve crisis intervention. The interview is almost always performed face to face and may be videotaped for later use in a court of law.
Next is the assessment phase. This phase involves interviews, substance abuse evaluations, and specialized psychological evaluations. Some of the bases covered include family medical history for any red flags involving mental illness, significant incidents of past trauma, this may include both physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect. Another aspect that is a much importance is the family dynamic. Some criminals come from a childhood of moving from foster home to foster home until aging out of the system at the age of 18.
Others may come from a financial comfortable family with a dog and a white picket fence. According to The National Organization of Forensic Social Work (NOFSW), the forensic social work practitioner provides: consultation, education & training, diagnosis, treatment and recommendations in various agencies. In addition, the NOFSW also points out that within the field of forensic social work, a clinician may undertake policy, program development, mediation, advocacy, and arbitration. Green; Thrope; Traupmann; the Sprawling Thicket Australian Social Work/June 2005) Barker and Branson (2000) summarize the Field of Forensic Social Work narrowing it down to 10 core areas.
Some of these areas: 1. testifying in courts of law as expert witness. 2. Systematically evaluating individuals so that the resulting information can be used in court or by legal authorities. 3. Investigating cases where criminal conduct may have occurred and presenting the results to judges, juries, and other law authorities. . Recommending to the courts of law ways to resolve, punish or rehabilitate those found guilty of criminal acts or negligence in civil actions. Also included in the 10 core areas of Barker and Branson’s Legal aspects of Professional Practice in the forensic social work field are to; facilitate the court ordered sentence of the convicted person, monitoring and reporting progress to the courts. 6. Mediate between individuals and groups involved in disputed and conflicts. 7. Testify about professional standards of social work to facilitate cases of possible malpractice or unethical conduct. 8. Facilitate development and enforcement of licensing laws to regulate professional practice. 10. Maintain relationships with their own clients that uphold the letter and spirit of the law and ethical principals of their profession. (Barker & Branson Legal aspects of Professional Practice, 2000)
Mark Cameron and Elizabeth Keenan created a practice model that is adapted from the structures offered by Grenscavage and Norcross known as The Common Factors Model. Cameron and Keenan provide three addition new and potentially useful conceptualizations. First, is the conceptualization developed on the basis of ways in which factors function in practice as condition and process that are activated and; Facilitated by strategies and skills for change? Second is the System of Action. Suggesting that conditions and processes interact as a “system of action”; factors reciprocally influence each other, inevitably producing change.
The third conceptualization is based on Locus of practice competencies. Finally common factors are convinced as pertaining not only to the social worker and the client, but all those involved in the change work, including family, informal social supporters, and helpers in social services, education, health care organizations, and the judicial system. ” (Cameron & Keenan; The Common Factors Model; p. 65) Roberts and Brownell (1995) define Forensic Social work as “the practice specialty in social work that focuses on Law and educating law professional about social welfare issues and social workers about the legal aspects of their objectives” as defined by Barker,(p. 60). They go on to pen a section entitled Professional Recognition of forensic social work as a Field of Practice.
This is an important part of why I chose to do my capstone paper on Forensic Social work in the first place. I’ve came to realize what little attention is given to this particular field of social work practice in general. Roberts and Brownell (1995) discuss the need for social workers them selves to recognize that a specialization in forensics has developed in recent years not just in social work but among other professional groups such as psychology, psychiatry and nursing. A Century of Forensic Social Work: Bridging the Past to the Present, 1999) The fact that there should be a distinct and prominent role for forensic social workers; the need to recognize that this area of practice; if we were to consider social work in corrections and probation, forensic mental health, substance abuse, family/criminal court, domestic violence and child abuse and neglect, it is a natural outgrowth of the leadership exerted by Jane Adams, Julia Lathrop and other prominent forensic social workers in the late 1800’s.

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