Role of Social Worker in Correctional Setting

Content Outline 

  1. Introduction 
  2. Role of Social Worker in Correctional Setting 
  3. Advocate and Reformer
  4. Administrator and Supervisor 
  5. Researcher and Program Evaluator 
  6. Legal Aid 
  7. Direct Service Provider 


 Let's understand and learn the various roles of a Social Worker in a Correctional Setting. Social work education is designed to train practitioners to perform a variety of functions in human services settings, including clinical practice, administration, policy practice, supervision, organizing, advocacy, and research and evaluation. Foundation level education in social work includes content on work with individuals, families, couples, and small groups; human behavior; community and organizational dynamics; social policy; research and evaluation; social, cultural, and ethnic diversity; and values and ethics. Social work education is unique in its broad approach to human services, an approach that seems to be tailor-made for work with adult and juvenile offenders and with the various components of the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In principle, social workers with advanced training are educated to be able to provide clinical and case management assistance to individual offenders and their families; design, administer, and evaluate programs; supervise staff; and advocate and lobby for legislative and other social change. 

The role of professional social workers in the various correctional settings has been specifically discussed. Broadly, the role of the social worker in the correctional settings may take many forms as described below-

Role of  Social Worker in Correctional Setting 

1-Advocates and Reformers:
social work has always embraced and been committed to social justice issues. Social workers are trained to identify and confront injustices, through the policy process, protest, and lobbying. Examples of issues that warrant social workers’ advocacy and reform efforts include the rights of offenders who have a major mental illness, the need for programs designed to facilitate the transition of offenders from institutional to community-based settings, the need to prevent abuse and discrimination in institutional settings, and the legal protection of minors who have been charged and tried in criminal court as adults and sentenced to adult prisons.
2-Administrators and Supervisors: 
 Social work education programs typically include an administrative track for those students who wish to pursue this career path. Curriculum content ordinarily includes instruction on program planning, budgeting, and financial management, grant writing, personnel issues, and staff management, employee evaluation, supervision, leadership, staff development, community relations, and organizational dynamics. Such knowledge and skills are invaluable in a wide range of public and private sector criminal justice settings, such as parole and probation offices, residential treatment programs, and counseling centers. 
3-Researchers and Program Evaluators:
Throughout the profession’s history, social workers have strengthened their understanding of and commitment to research and program evaluation. Criminal justice programs that were once created, designed, and funded based on faith and goodwill now require in-depth research and evaluation to justify their existence. Every accredited social work education program provides students with at least foundation-level knowledge and skills related to formulating research and evaluation questions, research and evaluation design, sampling methods, data collection techniques, measurement issues (validity and reliability), research and evaluation ethics (especially the protection of human subjects), data analysis, and report preparation.
4-Legal Aid:
Legal aid and assistance to the weak and downtrodden is a task best suited to the professional social workers in the light of their professional goals, which are committed to the welfare of the poor and needy. Right from promoting legal literacy to giving legal advice in specific cases a professional social worker’s services can be of immense value in bringing our justice system within the reach of the common man.
5-Direct Service Providers:
Social workers should also be active participants in mediation, alternative dispute resolution, restitution, and conciliation programs. Social workers have both the clinical skills to assume these roles and the values and ideological commitment required to be effective. Social work and social workers should be central to the restorative justice movement.

  1. Sehgal, R (2008). Legal Provision for children in MSW- 004, Social Work and Social Development, Unit 3, Block 4, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi 
  2. Tiwari, A. (2002). Medical facilities in Indian prisons: Role of prison doctors and para-medical staff to uphold the right to health of prisoners. Mumbai: Centre for Health Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  3. Reamer, Frederic G. (2004) ‘Social Work and Criminal Justice’, Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 23: 1, 213 — 231.
  4. Varghese, J (2009). Group work in institutional settings in MSW- 008, Social Group Work: Working with groups, Unit 3, Block 4, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi


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