Social Work and Corrections

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Abstract
Social justice, and its application as a key social work value, has a particular resonance in the institutions of the criminal justice system. Promoting equality of access and resources, doing case work, and advocating for the rights of those who are imprisoned, is a complex task. Australian prisons are filled overwhelmingly with the poor, the socially impoverished, the geographically disadvantaged, the alienated and the dispossessed. Whilst this population is characterised by the social and economic disadvantage that is familiar to many social work settings, there are two complicating factors for social workers in Corrective Services. The first is that this population has also committed crime or at least has been accused of committing crime. The second is that prisons are closed institutions, where the internal workings are largely invisible to the general public. The life circumstances of prisoners (both inside and outside of prisons), even if extremely difficult, tend not to elicit a great deal of sympathy. In popular discourse, the fact and impact of the crime committed understandably overshadows the fact of the offender’s personal disadvantage. Because prisoners are out of sight, a simplistic and frequently dehumanising image of the prisoner is able to flourish, but of course it is entirely possible for someone to be both a decent individual, for example helping people in need, volunteering in emergencies, being a good friend, and a criminal. As Sotiri observed: "When I worked at [agency name] (a post-release NGO) we used to joke about how often we, as workers would say about our clients ‘he’s such a nice guy’. Because of course at some point many of our clients were not ‘nice guys’. Many had committed horrible crimes, or had at least acted ruthlessly and selfishly in their quest to obtain money and drugs." Although the fact of the crime is relevant, especially for some targeted rehabilitative work, working with this population requires a critical and holistic approach. This ensures that a client’s criminal behaviour does not entirely define who that person is. This is particularly important when working with a person leaving prison. Depending upon their role, social workers may need to consider not only the crime, but also the reasons why someone has committed crime, as well as the whole range of needs the person might have.
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Author(s)
Baldry, Eileen
Sotiri, Mindy
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Swain, P
Rice, S
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Publication Year
2009
Resource Type
Book Chapter
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