Teaching Criminal Justice

(This story is a sidebar in An End to Mass Incarceration)

This article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of SSA Magazine.

In a paper to be published in the Journal of Social Work Education later this year, Matthew Epperson and his co-authors point out that research has shown that individuals involved with the criminal justice system are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, poor health care and low levels of education. In a study of universities that granted a master’s in social work, the authors found, however, that only 22 percent offered at least one course specific to criminal justice-related issues. Eighteen percent offered a dual or joint degree program in criminal justice or law, and a mere 5 percent offered a concentration or specialization in a justice-related field.

Epperson is part of a movement in social work education and scholarship to renew the tradition of linking social work to criminal justice. At SSA, he has added the class Criminal Justice and Social Work Interface to the coursework available at the School, and he is one of the founders of the Social Work and Criminal Justice network and website, which provides information and resources to academics interested in these issues (http://www.sw-cj.org/).

“We’ve found that there are many social work scholars who do research or teaching in the field of criminal justice that still feel isolated,” he says. “Members of the network are a diverse group, focused on everything from women with eating disorders in prison to revisiting how juvenile justice works. This is a way to connect with others who are doing similar work and to encourage collaborative research.”