5 Crucial Things that Social Workers can Contribute to the Criminal Justice System


Social workers have been limited in the criminal justice system in many ways because of differing goals. The criminal justice system focuses on control and punishment of people who have committed crimes. Social workers put a stronger emphasis on the care and treatment of people who have made mistakes. (DeNitto & Mckneece, Issues)


2. Understanding Mentality

Social Workers understand the importance of words when working with a client. They do not place titles upon people who have made mistakes, but rather understand that mistakes do not define who a person is. For example, a “felon” is not a felon, but simply a person with a felony. And a “drug addict” is a person in long term recovery. (Jeff Pryor)

3. Re-Entry Services

When an individual spends a lot of time in prison, they will need help re-entering the community following release. Services they might need could include anything from rehabilitation for substance abuse, therapy, skills needed to acquire work and housing, etc. Without access to these services, the rate of recidivism is 66%. (Jeff Pryor) Social Workers provide re-entry services to help with a smoother transition back into the community and attempt to prevent recidivism.


4. Value on a Humans Life

When an individual is sent to prison and given the death penalty, without a social worker, the odds will never be in their favor. As a social worker, a human life is one of the most valuable things and that there is more to a person than the mistakes they have made in the past. Social Workers advocate for their clients life in the case of the death penalty and tell their story, every part of it, after gaining a complete understanding of the life events that have led the client here to this. (Lisa Orloff, Days in the Lives)


5. Empathy

Most importantly, Social Workers can provide empathy towards clients in the Criminal Justice System. Empathy is a theme seen in all of the things listed above that are crucial to the well being of clients in the system. Social workers have the ability to gain a fuller understanding of a client, and seeing them more as someone who is nothing but the mistakes they’ve made.


Abby Arnold


DiNitto, D., & McNeece, C. (2008). Social work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.


Grobman, L. (2012). Days in the Lives of Social Workers (4th ed.). Harrisburg: White Hat Communications.

Jeff Pryor, Class Discussion on February 18th, 2016

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