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Forensic Social Work: Psychosocial and Legal Issues in Diverse Practice Settings

Tina Maschi, Carolyn Bradley, and Kelly Ward, eds. Forensic Social Work: Psychosocial and Legal Issues in Diverse Practice Settings. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2009. xvii + 398 pp., ISBN 978-0-8261-185ForensicSocialWork 7-8 (hbk)

Social work has a rich and scarcely-told history in criminal justice, and only recently have social workers begun to market introductory texts, topical readers, or collected essays. One artifact of mass imprisonment in the United States is that social workers are starting to give more attention to their work in criminal justice and corrections. In Forensic Social Work, social work professors Tina Maschi of Fordham University in New York and Carolyn Bradley and Kelly Ward of Monmouth University in New Jersey have gathered a series of 26 articles, which are divided into seven sections covering collaborative forensic practice; forensic practice in family and social services, child welfare, mental health and substance abuse, and juvenile and criminal justice; and diversity, human rights, and immigration. Five appendices provide examples of a child welfare-oriented strengths-based psychosocial assessment, a rapid psychosocial assessment, a psychiatric evaluation, forensic interviewing best practices, and a multidisciplinary approach offered through the New Jersey Anti-Trafficking Coalition. The authors of articles in this volume comprise a healthy mix of academics and practitioners heavily from the New Jersey-New York region, with a few outliers to fill in some topical spaces. The articles themselves are succinct and often illustrated through practice “case studies” or practitioner “voices from the field.”

In this volume, Maschi, Bradley, and Ward take a social justice-oriented, strengths-based approach to collaborative forensic social work. Forensic social work is generally perceived as social work practice carried out within juvenile and criminal justice systems. Collaborative social work involves coordination and networking with practitioners in other fields, such as school-based social work, substance abuse treatment centers, and mental health clinics. Strength-based interventions focus on people’s personal, familial, and community advantages, while social justice perspectives hold that all persons have the same social rewards, opportunities, obligations, and rights.

One of the troubles confronting editors of broad-based volumes is that individual presentations often lack depth because there is too much to cover in too little space. Despite the “case studies” and the “voices from the field” contributions throughout this book, much of the text in this volume is general in nature. Occasionally, too, errors are made and significant matters are left out entirely. In a lackluster chapter on the history of forensic social work, the National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD) is established in 1907, which was actually the founding date of NCCD’s predecessor, the National Probation Association, which became the National Probation and Parole Association in 1947, and NCCD in 1960. More importantly, no mention is given groups such as the Vera Institute of Justice, the Legal Aid Society of New York, or the public defender’s office in Washington, DC that established the critically important use of social workers to assist defense attorney’s prepare pre-sentence reports that advocated for the expanded use of community-based sanctions and services. Mitigation services, as this work is now sometimes called, are mentioned in a later chapter on prison-based practice, but too much in passing for a reader to latch on to the vitality of these endeavors.

Other than this chapter on prison-based practices, relevant articles in this collection include those on the “back to school” reentry of incarcerated juveniles, legal and ethical issues in mental health and addiction treatment, the intersection of substance abuse and law in drug courts, the addiction treatment of women with children, suicide-prevention programming in jails, reentry practices in the 21st century, and restorative justice in social work practice.

Collaborative practice, however, is likely to become more prevalent than more specialized services. In part, this is because practices are maturing in their understanding of their own limits, but also there is increased appreciation of the importance of interdisciplinary practice. Forensic Social Work, then, performs a helpful service in highlighting, or at least starting a discussion on, the possible contributions of social work on mentally ill persons not only in one corrections agency or another, but also in many of the community-based groups such men and women commonly encounter as they pass through courts, custody, and supervision. This is a valuable message not only for those starting to work in corrections, but also for those who have worked in the trenches for some time. In the end, strong, engaging supplements will be needed to effectively use this volume in class rooms or training sessions.

Posted Tue, Mar 1 2011 2:54 PM by Tracey Vessels


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