Forensic social work (including criminal justice settings) in Australia: The role of social work to promote human rights and social perspectives

Sarah Harvey, Melissa Petrakis

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


BACKGROUND: Maschi and Killian noted in 2011 that ‘Effective forensic social work requires an integrated two-pronged approach that addresses wellbeing (psychosocial) and justice (law and policy)…’ It is important to focus on a person’s current situation within the legal system however also understand their past and present circumstances, in a holistic manner, to help them to gain more positive life outcomes.

AIMS: To reflect on and conceptualise how to better work with a population who are the most marginalised, scared, dangerous and vulnerable clients to work with. A purposive sample was reviewed to determine prisoners who most reflected the challenges in engaging this population. The current study aimed to outline the best possible approach to engagement, assessment and intervention a social worker might utilise.

METHODS: A case study analysis was undertaken, incorporating 3 methodological approaches: direct observation, case file audit and client interview. Data was then triangulated to determine key themes and clarify accuracy of interpretation.

RESULTS: Reflecting on social work in a forensic setting, many approaches and theories are utilised: Structured approach, Person Centred approach, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Psychodynamic theories and Narrative theory. The case study highlighted two key knowledge bases Systems theory and Strengths Based Approach.

DISCUSSION / CONCLUSION: Social work does have a vital role in the forensic field as we aim to promote social change and justice, which is greatly needed in this field. Prisoners have the ability to learn from their experiences, however, sometimes requiring tools and support to make these life changes. Forensic social work is important as most of the prisoners are complex with varying degrees of trauma, display poor learnt behaviour, lack education, did not reach developmental milestones and cannot live with societies norms.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
Event9th International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health 2019: Shaping the future - University of York Exhibition Centre, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Jul 201926 Jul 2019
Conference number: 9th


Conference9th International Conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health 2019
Abbreviated titleICSW 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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