August 30, 2010
Gender, Jail, and Social Work
While chatting with a social worker recently, we made what has become a familiar observation: That social workers and prosecutors really are addressing the same societal problems (substance abuse, for example), simply by different means.
For the first time, though, a new and perhaps more important thought entered into that conversation. Not only are criminal lawyers and social workers addressing the same problems in the same populations, but really within the same families. She told me that in both urban and rural work that she had done, there was consistently a pattern where the men went to prison, and the social workers dealt with the women and children who are left in poverty and chaos.
Moreover, it is a highly gendered dichotomy. Those who go to prison and those who prosecute and defend them are overwhelmingly male, while those left behind and the social workers who help them are overwhelmingly female. It is a sharp gender division on both sides.
Perhaps the oddest thing about all of this is that social workers and those in criminal law rarely communicate with each other, though they are addressing the same problems. The men in criminal work stay in the courthouse, and the women in social work stay away from the courthouse and focus on the home.
Perhaps it is time to address that gap?
-- Mark Osler