23 Mar 2021

Social work in justice settings

Social work in justice settings

Social work in justice settings and services

Social work in justice settings such as court, prisons and in the community aims to reduce reoffending, increase the social inclusion and rehabilitation of those involved in offending behaviour and help protect the public from serious harm.

It is a hugely diverse area of practice that contributes significant expertise across multiple formal and informal partnership arrangements. This includes community justice, health and social care, children and families, housing and homelessness, drugs and alcohol and mental health partnership arenas.  

Social workers practicing in this area, work closely with a range of individual statutory and voluntary agencies within relevant partnership arrangements. They work with people aged 16 and over with a wide range of multiple and often complex issues affecting them, such as domestic abuse, sexual offending, hate crime and extremism, violence, substance use and mental health.

Social workers will be working with people facing diverse social and psychological transitions. They also work with victims and witnesses and are involved in supporting the needs of children and families facing the impact of parental imprisonment.

Those working in this area are knowledgeable about and fluent in the application of specific legislation in relation to their powers and duties along with broader adult and child protection legislation, policy and guidance. They use this knowledge to take action which supports wellbeing and safety for individuals and the community.

Examples of the work often undertaken by social workers in this practice area include:

  • contribution to multi-agency planning for the management of public safety
  • completing complex and comprehensive assessments and provision of reports to assist decisions on sentencing
  • supporting people diverted from prosecution
  • supervising people on parole or a community-based disposal
  • provision of evidence-informed therapeutic and behaviour change programmes and interventions.

Whatever setting you work in please find out about the relevant legislation, policy and guidance. We’ve included some links here, but always recommend that you check the most up to date and relevant material within your practice setting.

Key legislation informing practice in justice settings

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 replaced community service orders, supervised attendance orders and probation orders with Community Payback Orders.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced new ways to assess serious violent and sexual offenders and strengthened existing prison throughcare arrangements.

The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 outlines the circumstances whereby a court must obtain and consider a report from a local authority officer.

Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) were introduced in 2007 following implementation of the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2005. The Act places statutory obligations on responsible authorities to cooperate in respect of Registered Sex Offenders and Restricted Patients.

Policy and practice guidance for working in justice settings

Scottish Government national guidance on bail supervision set outs guidelines for the operation of bail supervision services by local authority justice social work.

Scottish Government Community Payback Orders (CPOs) practice guidance informs practitioners and managers in the delivery of justice social work and specifically CPOs.

Scottish Government Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA): national guidance 2016 outlines the working arrangements for assessing and managing the risk posed by certain categories of offenders.

Scottish Government Criminal Justice Social Work Reports and Court Based Services Practice Guidance provides direction on the completion of social work reports and delivery of court based services.

The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice provides information relevant to broad range of justice issues and practice.

Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum is a collaboration of voluntary sector organisations working in criminal justice in Scotland.

SACRO works independently and collaboratively within Scotland’s communities to provide support, prevent conflict and challenge offending behavior.

Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research produces research that informs policy and practice and advances understanding of justice.

The Scottish Prison Service Integrated Case Management (ICM) Guidance Manual explains the ICM process and its requirements.

The National Objectives for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Standards – Throughcare provide details on statutory prison throughcare. Note: This document is currently being reviewed but may offer some learning.

The Scottish Prison Service Home Detention Curfew (HDC) Guidance for Agencies outlines the role of justice social workers.

Scottish Government Drug Treatment and Testing Orders: Guidance for Schemes provides details on Drug Testing and Treatment Orders is a community disposal.

Risk Management Authority’s Framework for Risk Assessment, Management and Evaluation (FRAME) outlines the policy approach to risk practice in Scotland.

Circular No: SWSG 14/1998 – Extended Sentences: Interim Social Work Guidance (PDF) from the Scottish Government provides practice guidance for those directly involved in the home leave process for prisoners. Note: This document is currently being reviewed but may offer some learning.

Please let us know about any guidance and resources that you would like to recommend to other NQSWs working in justice settings.

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