Social Policy Within Criminal Justice: A Swinging Pendulum

3210 words - 13 pages

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Social Policy Within Criminal Justice: A Swinging PendulumAbstractThe explosion in the population of our prison system in the last 40 years negatively impacts our nation financially and psychologically. It puts the safety of future generations in severe jeopardy as well. Social policy and legislative actions have controlled the course of the criminal justice system and has had both positive and negative outcomes. The conflict of punishment vs. rehabilitation is one that has been of primary concern ever since the early days of social work. The dominance of one over the other is the direct result of public perceptions and fear of crime and swings back and forth like a pendulum. Even while one approach may rule the order of the day, the other is always present and patiently waiting it's return to prominence. The social work profession is poised to significantly influence the outcome of which ideology ultimately prevails. Advocating for reform is the most important role of applying this influence. The profession is also positioned to bring forth change to the environmental factors that foster criminal activity. These factors include but are not limited to poverty, homelessness and unemployment. It will take passionate involvement of not only the social work profession but also the educators of social work to make the goal of reform a reality.Harsh Reality of United States Correctional SystemAmerica's correctional system is vast. In 2010, there were 3,365 prisons and jails in the United States. To put this in perspective, the amount of accredited 4 year colleges in America during this period numbered only 2719 (www.nces.ed.gov). Upon review of the prisoner population in our country there appears to be a crisis regarding the state of corrections. As of year end 2008, there were 2,310,984 prisoners in federal or state prisons and local jails (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008). Compare this to 196,429 prisoners in 1970 and the stark reality is obvious (www.bjs.gov). Additionally, there are currently over 5 million Americans on probation or parole. This is up from 1.6 million people under supervision just 30 years ago (Wilson, 2010). Additionally, in 1994 President Clinton said that over the last 3 decades, violent crimes increased 300 percent (Roberts, 1997). Clearly, administration's get tough approach to crime since the mid 1970s has failed.While public fear has driven politicians to build more prisons and enact harsh legislation in regards to crime and punishment, the desired results of less crime has not come to fruition. Since records started being kept in 1925, the U.S. incarceration rate was consistently around 100 inmates per 100,000 people for a majority of the century. However, in the last 35 years, the incarceration rate has exploded to over 700 per 100,000 (Wilson, 2010). A big part of the...

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