Social work and forensic practice
Lowe, Laura A
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Criminal justice populations represent oppressed groups with which the social work profession has traditionally identified. However, relatively few social workers are currently practicing in this area. This research study compared social workers with and without educational exposure to and work experience with criminal offenders. It explored the impact of educational exposure on the rate of choosing to practice with criminal offenders. It compared attitudes and experiences in this area of practice. A mail survey was conducted with 400 social workers belonging to two professional organizations. The survey inquired about educational experiences and attitudes towards internship, employment, and the general field of social work with offenders. A response rate of 60% was achieved. The respondents were primarily female (78%) and White (82.9%), with a mean age of 48 (SD=10.98). Approximately 50% of the respondents had professional experience working with criminal offenders. Results indicated that social workers with professional work experience with offenders were more likely to have completed an internship with offenders or to have taken a specific course on offender work than those without offender experience. Respondents who took an offender course or completed an offender internship reported more years of practice with offenders. Respondents who reported being exposed through coursework or internships felt more prepared to work with offenders; however, they did not report higher feelings of comfort with this field of practice. While respondents with professional experience with offenders had significantly more positive attitudes toward offender social work than those without such work experience, educational exposure did not appear to influence this issue. For the most part, attitudes toward internship and employment experiences were not impacted by whether the experience was with or without offenders. Results indicated that social workers practicing with offenders are exposed to a wide variety of client social problems, ethnic groups, and other social agencies. It is suggested that the social work academy has the potential to have a significant impact on the number of social workers who practice with offenders. Exposure to offender issues through specific coursework and internships may encourage students and new professionals to consider this area of practice.