Promote Smart Decarceration integrated into education in social work and beyond

Significant efforts have been made to integrate the need to Promote Smart Decarceration into education, both within schools of social work and beyond. In the past year or so, progress has been made to bring the need for criminal justice reform to students, faculty, and society. Here are a few ways Smart Decarceration has been addressed:

  • Shannon Sliva, PhD, is teaching University of Denver’s first “inside out” style course  in partnership with the school’s Prison Arts Initiative this spring. It is an arts-based restorative justice course held at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility with ten incarcerated students and ten MSW students seeking to learn restorative justice practices in a prison setting, while integrating arts-based learning modalities. This course is one of a number of strategies being developed by the Prison Arts Initiative to engage in co-learning with the pople most impacted by incarceration.
  • The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration is pleased to announce the Transforming Justice Policies and Practices Program of Study. The program immerses master’s degree students in classes and field placements that offer a rich exploration of the policies, practices, histories and philosophies of the United States criminal justice system, with an emphasis on promoting socially just change within and outside the system. A previous study showed that only five percent of MSW programs had a concentration focusing on criminal justice-related issues. Promote Smart Decarceration Grand Challenge network co-lead and Director of the Program, Matt Epperson, PhD, says, “This program fulfills a critical need in higher education for social workers who have an increasing interest and responsibility to re-envision how justice is defined and achieved.”
  • During the spring 2020 semester, PhD candidate at Washington University, Brown School of Social Work, Maria Morrison began teaching a course titled Criminal Justice Involved Adults: Practice & Policy Interventions, that provides students with an understanding of transdisciplinary perspectives and how to apply systematic problem-solving approaches to preventing and intervening high rates of adult criminal justice involvement in the United States.
  • The Goldring Reentry Initiative (GRI), a program housed within the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania that seeks to break the recidivism cycle for men and women exiting Philadelphia’s county jail system while training Master of Social Work (MSW) students to work in the criminal justice field. Since its creation in 2011, the GRI has grown into the largest post-sentencing diversion program in Philadelphia, and 102 MSW interns have provided therapeutic case management services to over 650 clients both pre- and post-release. Preliminary evaluation results indicate a one year recidivism rate for GRI clients–substantially lower than the city average. This rate is consistent across demographic, social, and criminogenic characteristics. GRI MSW alumni have become leaders in Philadelphia’s criminal justice community, and currently manage innovative diversion programs, coordinate citywide harm reduction efforts, provide mitigation and case management services in public defenders’ offices, and manage reentry and workforce development programs across the city and the U.S.
  • With the recent launch of the Lab for Family Well-being and Justice at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work, Pajarita Charles‘s team is bringing attention to criminal justice-related issues throughout Wisconsin and beyond. In the past year, they have published papers with research, practice, and policy relevant decarceration implications (Charles, Muentner, & Kjellstrand, 2019; Muentner & Charles, 2019; Charles, Frankham, Garthe, Visher, Kay, in press). They have given policy relevant talks about efforts to expand evidence-based family-focused services for parents and children impacted by incarceration at the Wisconsin Legislative Children’s Caucus and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Learning Exchange, as well as at academic conferences, including a symposium at SSWR on Advancing the Goals of Smart Decarceration. The team has established extensive partnerships with local jails and state prisons, area non-profits, and individuals with lived experience to promote positive outcomes for children and families and to reduce recidivism through family support efforts, all while offering training opportunities (e.g., Returning Prisoner Simulations) to the next generation of social workers and criminal justice reform advocates. Their work and its relevance for the community has begun receiving media attention in outlets like the Wisconsin State Journal and the Isthmus, publicizing the impact of cycles of incarceration on children, the need for adequately funded reentry services, and the call for smart decarceration strategies.
  • Jenny Afkinich, PhD candidate, was the inaugural recipient of University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work’s Grand Challenges Dissertation Fellowship under Smart Decarceration. Afkinich, is currently finishing her dissertation focusing on the role of social workers in reducing disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system. Afkinich spent two years as a research assistant at the National Institute of Justice studying the impact of violence exposure on children. She has also had the opportunity to conduct research on school violence, policies pertaining to DNA collection, and social work leadership. Afkinich was selected as a UMB President’s Fellow for the 2018-2019 school year to study the root causes of gun violence and The University of Maryland Baltimore’s role as an anchor institution in addressing gun violence.
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