Crime has been a part of political and academic discourses about the fragmented nature of industrial society and offenders have centrally occupied contradictory positions in different types of debates and discussions that have polarized the question of what should be done with them, punishment or rehabilitation? The aim of punishment is to control deviant populations and rehabilitation to reintegrate offenders into society as useful citizens. Under the modern correctional philosophy prisons are now considered as correctional institutions where the prisoners are sent after punishment for their reformation and rehabilitation.In this regard, the profession of social work with offenders has vacillated between these two poles of the continuum.Professional social workers in correctional facilities provide two kinds of services: supportive services within the institution and corrections to resources in the community. Within correctional services, social work services might be utilized in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, education, and vocation rehabilitation. Thus, in the discourse of social work profession, this paper attempts to provide a linear understanding about the professional social work practice within the purview of correctional intervention. The paper is divided into six parts. The first part deals with the introduction. The second part discusses on criminal justice system. The third part describes aboutcrime, punishment, and prison conditions. The forth part presents the status of prisons and prisoners in India. The fifth part focuses upon the social work profession. The last part presents all about corrections, social work and correctional servicesalongwith conclusion.

Throughout the history of human being, punishment, especially corporal and capital, have often been offered in response to antisocial behavior. Public hangings, floggings, mutilation, branding, banishment, the stocks and pillory, and several physical penalties have been utilized to punish the culprit and be a lesson to others. It was only toward the end of the eighteenth century at the Walnut Street Prison in Philadelphia, in the shadows of Independence Hall, that the beginning of a new method, the use of time sentence in an institution, came into general usage. Enlightened humanitarians claimed that it was inhumane and unwise to torture offenders or put them to death. Instead the penitentiary system was developed, devised to give the offender a chance to think, have a change of heart and mend one’s ways through mediation in solitary confinement. Subsequently various kinds of penal institution evolved to allow for incarceration. Eventually the use of probation came into being as a substitute for imprisonment through the efforts of John Augustus, Boston shoemaker, and other benevolent reformers.
As offenders were sentenced to institutions and were placed on probation and parole, various professional groups became interested in making these efforts as effective as possible. Social work was one of those groups (Skidmore et. al., 1991).
Criminal Justice System
The criminal justice system is an expanding arena of social work profession. Historically, the field of criminal justice was made on a law enforcement foundation, emphasizing punishment for criminal behavior.
Although social workers acquired legitimacy in juvenile services early in the twentieth century, they have played a limited role in adult corrections. Criminal justice personnel often regarded social workers because of their value orientation about people, as unwelcome professions, considering them too soft to work in corrections. Recently, social workers have expanded their roles to provide:
• Community based rehabilitation services,
• Diversionary programs,
• Supports for convicts’ reintegration into their communities,
• Counseling for prison inmates,
• Social services for families of criminals, and
• Advocacy for victims of crime.
To achieve credibility in the public criminal justice system, social workers must be educationally prepared to understand crime and delinquency, the nuances of working with involuntary clients, judicial processes and court procedures, and the roles of various professionals in this interdisciplinary field(DuBois & Miley, 1999).
The criminal justice system consists of a collection of agencies that becomes responsible to uphold the law in the interest and welfare of all citizens. Its aims and objectives are: to deliver justice for all, by convicting and punishing the guilty and assisting them to stop offending, while protecting the innocent. It is responsible for detecting crime and bringing it to justice; and carrying out the orders of court, such as collecting fines, and supervising community and custodial punishment. These objectives translate into a number of specific responsibilities:
• The creation, through the law, of the boundaries between right and wrong behavior,
• The prevention and deterrence of offending behavior,
• The investigation and detection of crime,
• The gathering of evidence in connection with criminal activities,
• The arrest, charging and prosecution of offenders,
• The delivery of an appropriate response to those who have committed minor crime which does not
require prosecution, which includes restorative justice,
• The punishment of those found guilty of a criminal act,
• The delivery and administration of the sentence handed out by a court, and
• The provision of support to prevent offenders from reoffending.

The nature of the justice which is delivered can be evaluated from a number of perspectives:
a. Procedural Justice: The extent to which procedural safeguards that are designed to safeguard the rights and liberties of the subject are adhered to by the criminal justice process,
b. Substantive Justice: The extent to which the outcomes of the process provides equality of treatment for all members of society, and
c. Negotiated Justice: The extent to which key decisions are based upon a dispassionate application of established processes and procedures as opposed to extraneous factors that rely on negotiations interpersonal relationships that are fashioned between the key actors in a specific criminal justice intervention (Joyce, 2013).

Crime, Punishment and Prison Conditions
A number of theories seek to explain criminal behavior. Early works, such as those of Cesare Lombroso and William Sheldon, supported a relationship between physical feature and criminality. Lombroso identified physical and facial features characteristics of early forms of evolutionary development. He linked these subhuman features
to criminal tendencies. Sheldon identified distinctive body types that predicted personality and temperament that predisposed people to criminal behavior. These early
theories are dismissed today. The early twentieth century physical and biological explanations gained acceptance. Psychological theories and social control theories present the genesis of criminal behavior as mental disorders or antisocial acts (DuBois & Miley, 1999).

The term punishment is capable of several definitions: it has been referred to as ‘crime-handling’, although its meaning is often restricted to measures which are unpleasant and which are deliberately intended to inflict pain on an offender in response to an offence that he or she has committed. In this latter context, it has been defined as ‘the deliberate use of public power to inflict pain on offenders’. It has further been suggested that the pain that is inflicted should be an essential part of what is intended rather than being an unintended consequence arising from the state’s intervention. However, the infliction of pain is not universally accepted as a goal of punishment. Others prefer the use of the term sanction as the general term for any measure which is imposed as a response to crime, with adjectives distinguishingly the various kinds of sanction according to their primary purpose-punitive sanctions, rehabilitative sanctions, punitive/rehabilitative sanctions (which are ambivalent about their aims), reparative sanctions and sanctions designed to protect the public through containment (Joyce, 2013).
As with deterrence, and in contrast to retribution, rehabilitation aims of punishment can be seen as future oriented and, therefore, having a utilitarian rationale and appeal. The rehabilitative approach is based on the belief that people can change, that they are never beyond reform. Thus, offenders can be taught how to be ‘normal’, law-abiding citizens, and punishment can be organized so that they will be less likely to reoffend. Thus, the development of the ‘new’ punishment of imprisonment along with the growth of the scientific study of crime provided a strong impetus for the introduction of more constructive and humane punishments both within and outside of the prison (Marsh et. al., 2004).
Prison conditions have been central to the main penological traditions. For those who believe that prisons work through deterrence, prison conditions have been suppressed, because life must always be worse than living conditions on the outside. Liberal and humanitarian penologists have consistently called for better
conditions for prisoners and have advocated minimum legal standards. Abolitionists have argued that, even if prison conditions were to be vastly improved, it would not necessarily lead to greater penal legitimacy.
Prisons with good living conditions are still rooted in the deliberate infliction of pain through the deprivation of liberty. Overcrowding has been a major problem for the prison service in recent years as well.The psychological damage that imprisonment inflicts can have a negative impact on the health of all prisoners.
Prison is damaging to people, rather than leading to feelings of well-being, support or growth. Three important topics in relation to prisoners’ health are: mental health, self-inflicted deaths, and illicit substance misuse and the spread of infectious diseases (Scott, 2008). Prisoners tend to be part of the socially excluded population. They are more likely to suffer from structural inequalities and be poor, unemployed, homeless, suffer from ill health. These characteristics focus on a further source of conflict and contradiction in the ‘law and order’ debate, one that revolves around the causes of offending behavior. Political discourses about ‘law and order’ have highlighted the need of social workers and probation officers to prevent further offending and ensure community safety (Dominelli, 2004).

Status of Prisons and Prisoners in India

Borstal school: The primary objective of borstal school is to ensure care, welfare and rehabilitation of young offenders and to keep them away from contaminating atmosphere of the prison. The emphasis is given on the education, training and moral influence conducive for their reformation and prevention of crime.
Convict: Means any prisoner undergoing sentence.
Detenue: Any person detained in prison on the orders of competent authority under the relevant preventive detention law.
Occupancy rate: The number of inmates accommodated in jail against the authorized capacity of 100 inmates.
Overcrowding: The occupancy rate is of more than 100 percent results in overcrowding in the jail.
Prison population: Number of prisoners kept in prison at any given point of time. The prison population keeps changing because of addition of new prisoners and release of the old ones. Undertrial prisoner: Means a person kept in prison (judicial custody) while the charges against him are being tried.
Women jail: The jails functioning exclusively for women prisoners ( /

Social Work Profession
Social work profession emerged early in the twentieth century and today it is the profession charged with accomplishing the social welfare mandate of promoting well-being and quality of life. It encompasses activities directed to improve human and social conditions and alleviate human’s stress and psychosocial problems. Social workers, being caring professionals, work with people to enhance their competence and social functioning, to access social supports and resources to create humane and responsive social services, and to expand the structures of society that provide opportunities for all citizens (DuBois & Miley, 1999).

In current times, social work as a profession can be defined in the words of Water A. Friedlander, “Social work assist in realizing democratic principles and human rights, seeking to secure for all citizens a decent standard of living, social security and the fulfillment of the universal human need for love, acceptance, recognition and status” (Bhattacharya, 2012).The International Federation of Social Work (IFSW, 2001) has too formulated a respected and well-used definition of social work, as follows: “The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work” (Parris, 2012). The purpose of social work, thus, is: (a) enhancing the problem solving and coping capacities of people, (b) linking people with the systems that provide them with resources, services, and opportunities,(c) promoting the effective and humane operation of these systems, and (d) contributing to the development and improvement of social policy (Higham, 2006).

Practice in social work and the human services involve helping a wide variety of human beings who require assistance in dealing with problems in their lives or providing social services to people so that they can live their lives more effectively and efficiently. Children and their families, young people, people with physical or intellectual disabilities, with mental health, needs, and problems associated with old age, and issues faced by communities are all the broad focus of these services under social work practice (Hugman, 2013). The word social in social work profession emphasizes stress on social interaction and resultant social functioning and malfunctioning. Significant principles from sociology and social psychology, as well as from group dynamics, are woven into the artful fabric of social work, and are utilized to understand relationships of people and in assisting them to resolve their conflicts. A social worker is importantly effective in developing and employing the team approach and in bringing about coordination of services and activities. Professional social worker is regarded as the catalyst, coordinator and integrator who possess the ability and responsibility to assist the professional team work together and function in optimal fashion (Skidmoreet. al., 1991). The professional practice of
social work is categorized into (I) Primary Methods, and (II) Secondary Methods. In primary methods, three methods are proceeded to intervene the problems of people and provide solutions: (i) Social Case Work, (ii) Social Group Work, and (iii) Social Work with Community Organization. While in secondary methods, three methods are taken up for practice: (i) Social Action, (ii) Social Welfare Administration, and (iii) Social Work Research (Misra, 1994).

Corrections, Social Work and Correctional Services
Correction is regarded as one of the four social processes that are utilized in the administration of criminal justice system. These include: (a) law enforcement which is concerned with the collection of evidence about reported offences and with the detection and arrest of suspected offenders, (b) prosecution and defense, or the preparation and presentation of criminal cases before the court, (c) judicial process with is concerned with the legal determination of guilt and the assignment of penalties, and (d) corrections which is responsible for administering the assigned penalties. In other words, “corrections”, in one sense at least, is the total process of assisting people, who have violated the law, to be reformed and rehabilitated. The social worker plays a very significant role in the total process (Skidmore et. al., 1991).
To be bothered by the question of who receives social welfare is to miss the point of a social institution. The needs a social institution meets and the people who exhibit those needs are neither good nor bad. The needs and the institution that develops to meet those needs are an outcome of the interactions of all parts and people within a given society. To blame those who are in need and to put a stigma on them is to hold them accountable for the outcome of a social process to which they alone did not have input. The part social work plays in meeting the needs of people within the institution of social welfare is a natural and useful one within society. Such meanings and values associated with social welfare should be carefully examined. Social workers must certainly deal with people who are devalued by society and deal with a society which devalues social workers (DuBois &Miley, 1999).
The aim of social worker is to assist the offender, not to retaliate or to punish. The goal is to utilize the knowledge and skills of the profession in a corrective manner, to rehabilitate individuals, to assist them to help themselves so that they can return to and become part of society, and to guide them toward becoming comfortable
with themselves and their associates. The social worker aims to help the offender change patterns of behavior so that he or she can relate constructively to others and become socially acceptable. This is done through two avenues: (1) working with the individuals to help him or her change through better understanding of self and by
tapping the person’s own strengths and resources, and (2) modification of environment to bring about a healthier social climate in which to live (Skidmore et. al., 1991).
Professional social workers in correctional facilities provide two kinds of services: supportive services within the institution and corrections to resources in the community. Within correctional services, social work services might be utilized in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, education, and vocation rehabilitation. Case coordination skills are also very important because of the multifaceted nature of the problems, requiring numerous services. Social workers may work with inmates individually and in small groups to help them in making behavioral changes and adapting to prison life by coping with an array of prison problems such as violence, sexual assault, psychological victimization, protection rackets, homosexuality, racial strife, and chemical dependence. Social workers also provide services in the domain of advocacy, brokerage, and linkage between incarcerated individuals and their community ties. These kinds of services may be for the benefit of the prisoners themselves or their families (DuBois & Miley, 1999).


To sum up, through the practice of social work profession, social workers are imperative to play their prominent roles in administrative and practice positions in federal and state correctional programmes. Since the years, social work profession has provided and facilitated a variety of services for helping to reduce and prevent delinquency and crime. Today, social work is one answer to assist with these perplexing and frightening social problems, and social workers are very active in providing
services in most correctional agencies and programs.


• Bhattacharya, S. (2012). Social Work: An Integrated Approach. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications Pvt. Ltd.
• DuBois, B. & Miley, K.K. (1999). Social Work: An Empowering Profession. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Publication.
• Higham, P. (2006). Social Work: Introducing Professional Practice. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
• Hugman, R. (2013). Culture, Values and Ethics in Social Work. New York: Routledge.
• Misra, P.D. (1994). Social Work: Philosophy and Methods. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications.
• Parris, M. (2012). An Introduction to Social Work Practice: A Practical Handbook. New York: Open University Press.
• Skidmore, R. A., Thackeray, M. G., and Farley, O. W. (1991). Introduction to Social Work. New Jersey:Prentice-Hall, Inc.
• Joyce, P. (2013). Criminal Justice: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge.
• Marsh, I., Cochrane, J. and Melville, G. (2004). Criminal Justice: An Introduction to Philosophies, Theories and Practice. London and New York: Routledge.
• Scott, D. (2008). Penology. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
• Dominelli, L. (2004). Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession. USA: Polity Press.
• Prison Statistics India 2012, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India).(

About the Author:
Mr. Mohd. Shakil is pursuing Ph.D. in the Department of Social Work, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh since November, 2012. He is also availing Senior Research Fellowship under the scheme of UGC (SRFUGC). His research topic is “Children of Incarcerated Mothers: Study of District Jails of Aligarh and Etah, Uttar Pradesh”.

Article Categories:
Droit · Law

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