What Is Social Work Criminology and Why Is It Important?

The history of social work is intertwined with the U.S. criminal justice system. Since the profession began in 1904, social workers have offered resources to incarcerated people and advocated for victims and their families, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

Today, social workers play crucial roles in crisis centers, courtrooms and correctional facilities. The William Paterson University (WP) online Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Criminology and Criminal Justice gives graduates the tools they need to begin their careers across a wide spectrum of job opportunities in this growing field.

How Are Social Work and Criminology Related?

Social workers are an integral component of criminology and the criminal justice system. They work on all sides of the legal system to provide different populations — inmates, victims and families – emotional support as they navigate difficult circumstances.

While one social worker supports victims of domestic abuse in a crisis center with legal and housing assistance, another professional inside a juvenile justice center provides rehabilitative resources to children accused of crimes, according to Indeed. The profession’s code of ethics requires each professional to believe that each person has “inherent dignity” and deserves a chance to change and address their own needs.

Thanks to their unique role, social workers often witness firsthand the outsized impact that the criminal justice system can have on people’s lives long after an alleged crime occurs. Social work researcher Karen Kolivoski writes that incarcerated people often face long-term financial trouble from posting bail, paying fines or covering legal fees. Their families often struggle with securing employment and housing as they cope with mental health challenges and stress associated with their family member’s incarceration.

Job Opportunities for Criminal Justice Social Workers

Criminal justice social work — also known as forensic social work, social work criminology and correctional social work — encompasses many job titles, including diversion program manager, victim advocate, probation officer or law enforcement counselor. Whatever their job title, these social workers must identify and understand the causes of simultaneous crises and handle the fallout.

They conduct psychosocial and risk assessments before providing therapeutic services and coping skills to their clients, which can include victims or inmates depending on their employer, according to Indeed. Professionals often help clients fill out housing and employment applications and ensure that displaced children find new homes. Some social workers go on to take their passion for helping vulnerable populations to legal advocacy groups, which lobby for long-term policy change in state legislatures and local governments.

This career path can be pursued across various settings, from police departments and courthouses to domestic violence support centers and hospitals. Because social workers often treat mental health conditions in their roles, many decide to pursue clinical social work certifications to demonstrate their advanced skills and increase their earning potential, according to Indeed.

Criminal justice social workers make an average annual salary of $76,266, according to ZipRecruiter data. Their salaries can vary widely depending on experience level and educational attainment. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep specific data on the criminal justice social work field, the social work profession is expected to grow by 7% by 2032 — higher than the average growth rate for all occupations in the U.S.

Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice at William Paterson University

WP’s online BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice program is ideal for students who want to build a long-term career in social work and see opportunities for further education, such as certifications and master’s degrees, as they rise in the field. Coursework in criminal law and data analysis provides graduates with the tools they need to understand the challenges facing their clients and confidently deliver solutions.

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice program.

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