Radically Rethinking Social Work in the Criminal (in)Justice System in Australia

Michele Jarldorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Historically, research on prisons and prisoners privileges an individualizing framework, when in fact the prison experience is strongly tied to social stratification and collective identities. Informed by the data created for a Photovoice project with former prisoners in South Australia, I contend that contemporary “criminological” knowledge tends to individualize crime through its own privileged view of the world. This individualizing approach seeps into the ways in which criminalized women experience release into the community after a prison sentence, confirming that society does not believe that imprisonment furnishes any form of “rehabilitation.”

There can be no separation between capitalism, the prison industrial complex (PIC), and the violence present in carceral settings. This violence, although to a lesser extent than prisoners, is experienced by social workers selling their labor power within the PIC who are co-opted into believing that they can “make a difference.” Yet, social workers, whose codes of ethics are grounded in a framework of human rights, are witness to abuses of human rights on a daily basis within the PIC. Instead of making a difference, they are coerced into silence and roles of social control. The argument proposed here suggests that social workers must radically rethink the place and purpose of prisons by considering them as a violent response by the state to structural social problems that are experienced as politically perpetrated misery and oppression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-343
Number of pages17
JournalAffilia: Journal of Women and Social Work
Issue number3
Early online date11 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • abolition
  • criminalized women
  • oppression
  • Photovoice
  • prison industrial complex


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