The Reality

Approximately seven million people are currently under criminal justice supervision, either incarcerated in jail or prison (2.3 million), or on probation or parole (4.4 million). (Sawyer & Wagner, 2019). Of those who exit prison or jail, 67.8% are arrested for a new crime within three years (Cooper, Durose, & Snyder, 2014). People exiting prison or jail face numerous barriers to successful reintegration; a large majority has limited marketable work experience, low levels of educational or vocational skills, and many have health-related issues, including mental illness and history of substance abuse (Wilson, 2010). Moreover, services for people exiting prison or jail are fragmented—there is little to no communication or continuity between community-based providers and those working inside facilities. As a result, service provision is generally inefficient and ineffective (Cnaan et al., 2008).

Programs that utilize the continuum of care model can effectively bridge the gap between prison/jail and the community, and address the issue of recidivism (Butzin, Martin, & Inciardi, 2001; Hiller, Knight, & Simpson, 1999; Taxman, 1998). Inconsistencies in personnel recommending resources, providing services, and offering mentorship throughout the duration of the reentry process produce additional barriers to identifying and acquiring needed services (Taxman, 1998). Resource referral and co-navigating support services with clients are central elements of the continuum of care model.

Social Work & Criminal Justice

Incarcerated people are especially marginalized, stigmatized, overwhelmingly people of color, and often live in inner city, minority neighborhoods of low socioeconomic status—the people social work purports to defend (Cnaan et al., 2008). Despite over a century of social work involvement within the criminal justice field and the continuous, growing need for social service support therein (Roberts & Springer, 2007; Wilson, 2010), the GRI is unique within MSW programs. A 2012 study of accredited MSW programs revealed that only 8% of enrolled students worked in criminal justice settings for their field placements (Scheyett, Pettrus-Davis, McCarter, & Brigham, 2012). Social workers must become better trained in understanding and maneuvering through the criminal justice system, as mass incarceration and reentry do not exist within a vacuum, but also affect children, families, and entire communities.

Butzin, C.A., Martin, S.S., Inciardi, J.A. (2001). Evaluating component effects of a prison-based treatment continuum. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 22, 63-69.

Cnaan, R.A., Draine, J., Frazier, B., & Sinha, J.W. (2008). Ex-prisoners’ re-entry: An emerging frontier and a social work challenge. Journal of Policy Practice, 7(2-3), 178-198.

Cooper, A.D., Durose, M.R., & Snyder, H.N. (2014). Recidivism of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Recidivism of Prisoners Released Series.

Sawyer, W and Wagner, P.(2019). Mass incarceration: the whole pie 2019. North Hampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative: Mass incarceration: the whole pie.

Hiller, M.L., Knight, K., & Simpson, D.D. (1999). Prison-based substance abuse treatment, residential aftercare and recidivism. Addiction, 94(6), 833-842.

Roberts, A. & Springer, D. (2007). Social work in juvenile and criminal justice settings (3rd ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Scheyett, A., Pettus-Davis, C. McCarter, S., & Brigham, R. (2012). Social work and criminal justice: Are we meeting in the field? Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 32:4 (438-450).

Taxman, F.S. (1998). Reducing recidivism through a seamless system of care: Components of effective treatment, supervision, and transition services in the community. Greenbelt, MD: Office of National Drug Control Policy Treatment and Criminal Justice System Conference.

Wilson, M. (2010). Criminal justice social work in the United States: Adapting to new challenges. Washington, DC. NASW Center for Workforce Studies.

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