Criminal Justice Specialization

The Criminal Justice Specialization educates master of social work students to provide culturally competent clinical and macro social work services to people involved with and impacted by the criminal justice system by understanding the historic and contemporary context of mass incarceration, criminal justice, and reentry.

Students develop a broader understanding of the uneasy alliance between social work and criminal justice, and the variety of interventions and programs that work to improve the criminal justice system and the lives of the individuals therein.  Students will receive multidisciplinary instruction to better comprehend the intersecting issues connected with mass incarceration. Field placement will focus on skill development to enable students to work effectively with individuals, communities, and systems while developing strategies for productive policy and programmatic change within the criminal justice field.  Students will utilize classroom and field learning opportunities in local, state, and federal courts, corrections, and supervision; non-profit criminal justice service agencies; and criminal justice policy organizations.

The goals of the specialization are to:

  • Integrate macro and clinical social work across the field of criminal justice, including juvenile and adult corrections, courts, reentry, probation/parole, mental health, substance use organizations, social service agencies, and alternatives to incarceration;
  • Train future social workers to become familiar with and maneuver through various sectors of the criminal justice system; and
  • Incorporate social work into a broader, multidisciplinary context focusing on criminal justice.

The Criminal Justice Specialization is open to all MSW students (full-time, part-time, and advanced standing).

Faculty

The Criminal Justice faculty are leading researchers and practitioners in their fields. The faculty will work closely with specialization students to mentor and advise them, both academically and professionally.

Requirements

Students in the Criminal Justice Specialization complete a criminal justice focused field placement and take a total of two courses as part of the specialization. The required coursework focuses on policy, history, pathways to, and unique populations within the criminal justice field, with an emphasis on social work practice.

To earn the specialization, students complete the following requirements:

  1. Field Placement in a criminal justice-focused setting. The field placement requirement can be completed in either the Foundation or Advanced year. If students complete a criminal justice placement in the foundation year, they do not also need a criminal justice placement in the advanced year.
  2. SWRK 785: Criminal Justice Policies: Implications for Social Work. This course fulfills the MSW Policy Option requirement. SWRK 785 is offered in the spring semester.
  3. Completion of an approved elective. This elective must be focused mainly on criminal justice. Students may choose from the pre-approved electives listed below, or receive permission from the Director of the Specialization for a course that is not on this list.

Pre-approved Electives

  • SWRK 798: The Social Entrepreneurial Approach to Community Reintegration
  • SWRK 798: Taking Down the Prison Industrial Complex
  • EDUC 646: Examining the School to Prison Pipeline: Implication of History, Policy, & Race
  • GSWS 555/NURS 555: Women and Incarceration
  • LAW 696: Constitutional Criminal Procedure
  • LAW 998: Juvenile Justice Seminar
  • CRIM 601: Pro-Seminar in Criminal Justice

Although these courses are pre-approved by SP2 to count towards the Criminal Justice Specialization, students must receive permission from their academic advisor before enrolling in a course outside of SP2. In addition, courses outside of SP2 may require permission from the department offering the course before a student may enroll.

Courses not on the list above, either at SP2 or in other schools at the University, may be approved towards the specialization on an individual basis. Students should contact the specialization director for permission.

Completion Form

There is no application for the Criminal Justice Specialization, but students must submit a completion form at the conclusion of their academic program when all of the specialization requirements have been met. It is the student’s responsibility to register for and complete the correct course and field placement requirements. Classes and field placements are based on availability.

All students who complete the requirements by graduation will have the specialization noted on their transcript.

Part-time Students

Part-time students should be aware that Criminal Justice specialization courses can be scheduled at any time, and it is possible that none of the courses required for the specialization will be offered in the evening hours.

SP2 News

Faculty & Research

SP2 Faculty Member Testifies Before Congress on Competition in U.S. Labor Markets

Ioana Marinescu, PhD, assistant professor at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice, recently provided testimonial before Congress during a...

Cover image for The Center for High Impact Philanthropy’s “We the People: A Philanthropic Guide to Strengthening Democracy”

Faculty & Research, Gifts & Giving

A Philanthropic Approach to Strengthening Democracy

For the past several decades, there’s been a marked decline in how much U.S. citizens trust the country’s democratic process....

Raekwon Burton

Student Life, Global Engagement

MSW Student Reflects on Transformative Experience in India

Prior to enrolling in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2),...

Dr. Jerri Bourjolly

Faculty & Research, Student Life

SP2 Task Force on Race and Social Justice

Earlier this year, Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) launched the SP2 Task Force on Race and Social...

Discover More