The Social Justice Initiative will present at the following virtual conferences.
- The Power of MACRO Social Work: Forging Pathways Toward a More Just and Equitable World 2021
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Nov. 16–20, 2020
MACRO Social Work
"The Impact of Life Without Parole Sentencing Behind Bars and Beyond: Using the Power of Macro Social Work Policy to Address Trauma on Individuals, Families, and Communities"
Abstract: "Life without parole" (LWOP) represents one of the most controversial policy issues in criminal justice reform. Nationally, one in 28 prisoners are serving LWOP sentences without release potential excluding rare cases of clemency or commutation. This interactive roundtable explores the impact of these sentences on individuals, their families, and communities.
Proposal: The social justice documentary, “The Mayor of Graterford” (2018), follows two men from behind prison bars and then back to their communities; two men who were actually commuted after serving a combined total of seven decades in the state correctional system in Pennsylvania. These individuals are now part of a movement for criminal justice reform around the legislation for life without parole (LWOP) sentencing. In this session, we will hear the perspectives of these men, other “lifers,” family members, and community advocates. We will explore the impact on them as individuals and examine policy development around mass incarceration and sentencing, together discussing perspectives about clinical care and policy change. The session will integrate video and audio media from the ‘Graterford’ film, as well as responses from the social work community who attended a recent screening of the film. We will discuss how clinical and macro social workers together can be more instrumental in criminal justice reform.
Life without parole sentences are disproportionately high in a number of states. Florida (16.7%), Pennsylvania (10.1%), California (9.6%), Louisiana (9.1%), and the federal system (7.2%) make-up over half (52.7%) of the nation’s total LWOP population (Nellis, 2017). In Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, more than 10 percent of the state prison population is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole. Within these numbers, while most identify as male, female inmates represent the fastest growing population (Sentencing Project, 2017).
Among all of the services in this area of practice provided by social workers in general and macro social workers in particular, is the advocacy to bring about change for current and exonerated lifers and their families. NASW’s National Social Justice Priorities (2018-2019) outline the association’s full commitment to criminal justice and juvenile justice reform as a national imperative (NASW, 2018). Amy Fettig, Deputy Director of the National Prison Project at the ACLU, writes that “the role social work can play in changing the criminal justice system is enormous, and as yet untapped” (Laurio, 2019, p.14). Additionally, in 2015 the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare identified the promotion of “Smart Decarceration” as one of their 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work. Just as our profession led the juvenile justice reform in the U.S in the late 1800s (Reardon, 2019, p.12), and as recent policy has once again shifted toward more humane sentencing of juvenile offenders, policymakers must now direct their efforts to what is also at stake for communities, specifically the growing numbers of women and elders who remain incarcerated, leaving children without familial support or community influence and mentorship.
As we consider strengthening the link between micro to macro social work, we must look at the traumatic impacts associated with life without parole sentencing. Utilizing the U.S Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) model can be helpful here (SAMHSA, 2014, p.7). The model suggests that the circumstances of life without parole sentences are shaped by powerlessness and uncertainty. How can social workers support the dignity, self-worth, and self-determination of individuals serving time in contexts that are designed to deprive individuals of these essential values?
Moreover, SAMHSA’s three E’s of trauma, “Events, Experiences, and Effects,” suggest that service systems such as the Judicial system and Board of Pardons could become more trauma-informed if events and/or circumstances underlying an individual’s life without parole sentencing (such as an individual’s upbringing or the realities of intergenerational trauma) were considered (SAMHSA, 2014, p.7). Equally important, the SAMHSA model also suggests that clinical social work practice as well as current policies should consider the adverse effects on an individual that may occur immediately or with delayed onset. Lastly, this model enables us to look more closely at events such as life sentences and the lasting impacts on whole communities.
According to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, only 302 individuals serving life without parole sentences have been pardoned in Pennsylvania since 1971. Such a number is striking when considering the fact that Pennsylvania continues to have such high percentages of life without sentences, according to the Sentencing Project (2014). While it is important that more research be done in this area, the time is now for micro and macro Social Workers to unite to truly enact the call of this first national macro conference to forge pathways toward a more just and equitable world for all, behind prison bars and beyond.
By the end of this roundtable discussion, participants will be able to:
- Describe the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge to “Promote Smart Decarceration”;
- Explain the interconnectedness of the criminal justice system and community-based systems;
- Recount the realities of life without parole sentencing within and outside of today’s prisons on individuals, families, and communities;
- Articulate the ways in which criminal justice policies could be more trauma-informed for individuals and communities through utilizing current policies such as the SAMHSA model.
- Huang, L. N., Flatow, R., Biggs, T., Afayee, S., Smith, K., Clark, T., and Blake, M. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach.
- Marencik, M., McWilliams, M., O'Leary, J. (Producers), & McCarthy, J. (Director). (2018). "The Mayor of Graterford" [Motion Picture]. United States: Villanova University.
- National Association of Social Workers. (2018). NASW Social Justice Priorities, 2018 - 2019.
- Nellis, A. (2013). Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences In America. The Sentencing Project.
- Nellis, A. (2017). Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences. The Sentencing Project.
- Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. (2019). Commutation of Life Sentences (1971-Present).
- Reardon, C. (2019). Juvenile Justice Journey: Social Work Role Returns in New Era of Reform. Social Work Today, 12-15.
- SAMHSA’s Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach.
"Crisis at the Southern Border of Mexico: The Realities of 'Extracontinental' Migrants"
Panelists: Eva Moya and Carmen Villa
Immigration policy changes in the U.S. and Mexico have endangered the lives of "extracontinental" migrants from Africa and Asia at the Guatemala and Mexico borders. This international panel discusses the need for a closer exploration of migrants’ experiences using Critical Race Theory, formulating a call-to-action for clinical and macro-level practitioners.
By the end of this panel discussion, participants will be able to:
- Demonstrate an understanding of the adversities of the journeys from Guatemala to Mexico, as experienced by those attempting to ultimately seek refuge in the U.S.;
- Describe the components of clinical/micro and organizational and community/macro practice that are critical to the formation of humanitarian, socially-just coalitions among organizations and individuals, thereby also establishing the foundations for macro policy changes;
- Use the framework of Critical Race Theory (CRT) to better understand the marginalized experiences of "extracontinental" migrants at the southern border of Mexico.
Intersectionality is crucial to an understanding of the migrant experience, particularly as we examine the border crisis faced by “extracontinental” migrants who originate from Africa and Asia and pass through Guatemala to the southern border of Mexico (Yates, 2019). As a result of recent immigration policy changes in the United States and Mexico, migrants at the Guatemala/Mexico border are subject to growing rates of human rights abuses and state sponsored violence. This international panel will discuss the need for a closer exploration of migrants’ experiences of marginalization and violence on the basis of skin tone, language, and access to resources, as a result of harsh enforcement of United States and Mexico immigration policy changes. Guided by Critical Race Theory (CRT), social work principles, and social justice organizing and advocacy, panelists will formulate a call-to-action for clinical and macro-level practitioners.
At the border between Tapachula, Mexico and Talisman, Guatemala, the humanitarian crisis has grown significantly, bringing attention to the adversities faced by individuals who are known in the U.S. as "extracontinental" migrants. Before the policy shift, many of these migrants were able to settle in the United States. In 2018, approximately 12,550 were reported crossing the U.S. border (Yates, 2019). This number emphasizes the importance of continued research on individuals and families migrating to the United States. However, these numbers alone do not begin to describe the recent lived experiences of this group of people, the exacerbated, heightened tragedy of which is due to the changes in the immigration policies in the United States and Mexico.
The United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), formerly known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was signed on November 30, 2018 and revised in December 2019. The USMCA has heavily impacted the journey of migrants traveling through South and Central America seeking refuge at the borders of Mexico. USMCA has also disrupted the passage of “extracontinental” migrants who are vulnerable to violence and deportation along the southern border of Mexico. The result of this exposure both while traveling and at the southern border of Mexico has caused individuals to relive the very traumatizing experiences they originally sought to flee.
Mexico's Migration Law and Southern Border Program (SBP) has dramatically expanded Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts, particularly in the southern border states. Although intended to provide protection to migrants who were victims of crimes in Mexico, ironically, it has led to an increase in deportations (Galemba et al., 2019). SBP dramatically expanded Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts, particularly in the southern border states (Galemba et al., 2019).
While recent media attention has largely focused on the US-Mexico border with Central Americans in mind, our panel will utilize a Critical Race Theory (CRT) framework in looking at the ramifications of the border policies on these “extracontinental” migrants. CRT explores race and racism as it intersects with “other forms of social oppression,” using “experiential knowledge and unique perspectives of people of color” and “challenging the dominant racial ideology,” all of which rest on an unwavering allegiance to socially-just societies, as cited in Miller and Garran (2017, p. 26).
Panelists will discuss the immigration policy landscape around the “extracontinental” marginalized experiences, describe the existing networks of socially-just organizations and individuals at the border of Mexico and Guatemala. They will also guide our thinking about cross-cultural humility in transnational social work. Border policy changes not only impact individuals at the borders, but also extend to individuals, families, and communities in local neighborhoods and organizations in the United States. While the current U.S. Administration describes immigrants economic burdens, research shows a positive relationship between immigrants and economic and social contributions to communities across the country (Sherman et al., 2019).
Participants will walk away with strategies and tools to advocate for and grapple with immigration policy issues in their own communities. They will gain an understanding of the adversities experienced by “extracontinental” migrants attempting to seek refuge in the United States and Mexico, and have an opportunity to join in coalition-building efforts with socially-just organizations and individuals in Mexico and the United States. These coalitions are grounded in collaborative, participatory approaches, together with “extracontinental” communities.