Social workers in the criminal justice field work with individuals to find solutions that will help them succeed and reintegrate in their communities. They consider factors such as mental health, substance abuse treatment, and food and living provisions to ensure that inmates have the tools and resources they need before they rejoin the general population.

In addition, criminal justice social workers (also called forensic social workers) may assist family members affected by the correctional system. They may, for example, help to arrange supplemental benefits for a family whose provider has been incarcerated, or assist with foster care placement when the court system has deemed caregivers unfit to remain at home.  Furthermore, specialists might provide therapy, advocacy, and court representation to those who are affected by the criminal justice system in a variety of ways.  Overall, criminal justice social work spans a variety of roles and duties, giving experts in the field a diverse career outlook.

Typical Roles and Responsibilities of Social Workers in Criminal Justice / Corrections

Criminal justice social workers may hold positions in:

  • Intervention
  • Rehabilitation
  • Probation and parole
  • Court representation and advocacy
  • Case management

While responsibilities vary by role, it is important for social workers in the correctional field to embrace justice and a high standard of ethics. They must treat their clients fairly and without bias, regardless of criminal status.  Forensic social workers in any role seek to foster positive change in the lives of inmates as well as their families and communities.

Average Salary

Salaries for forensic social workers are among the highest in the social work field. According to the 2010 findings of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the median salary for a social worker in the field is $56,300.

Education & Experience Requirements

While specialists can enter the correctional field with a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees, an MSW and social work licensure can increase career and salary opportunities. Coursework focusing on mental health, therapy, and addictive behaviors – all emphasized in accredited MSW programs – can benefit those who are preparing for a career in criminal justice.

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Field of Practice: Criminal Justice / Corrections
Social work specialists in drug, alcohol and addictive behaviors often work with dual-diagnosed patients who are undergoing treatment for mental health issues as well as addictions. Social workers often provide therapy that equips their clients to overcome addictive thoughts and behaviors. They also facilitate transitions into the community for recovering addicts by connecting them with resources for housing and employment, and they may conduct support groups to further assist addicts on the path to recovery.
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