Inside and Outside the Justice System: Advocacy, Policy, and Practice

On Wednesday, December 10, social workers and advocates joined together to learn about the broad field of social justice as it impacts those involved in the justice system. The event, “Inside and Outside the Justice System: Advocacy, Policy and Practice,” offered insight into policy issues, multiple forms of justice, and specifics about clinic skills.

Glenn Martin, founder of JustLeadershipUSA, delivered a keynote titled “Marching Upstream: Redefining Justice in America.” Vincent Schiraldi, MSW ’83, senior advisor at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, delivered the luncheon keynote, “A Policy Perspective.”

Martin’s talk highlighted the need to take people “who have served time in the criminal justice system and invest in them.” This sentiment ties into JustLeadershipUSA’s Half by 2030 Initiative, a campaign aimed at reducing both crime and incarceration rates in the United States.

By drawing upon recent events—the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner—Martin emphasized the ability for these events to “create a tremendous amount of opportunity for reform.” Martin sought to encourage advocacy to change the current system and to seek alternatives to incarceration. “Think of everything else possible, then prison,” he said.

Ultimately, Martin’s moving address also considered the role of the social worker, whose job it is, in his view, to raise their voices and share the stories that humanize individuals who are in the system.

To consider the system that is in place, Vincent Schiraldi discussed his experiences early on in his career at Oak Hill Correctional Institute. Located in Laurel, Maryland, the juvenile correctional facility had teenagers often living in horrible conditions. Remarking on the reality that was Oak Hill, Schiraldi had often been quoted saying, “I wouldn’t kennel my dog at Oak Hill, let alone put a kid in there.”

He felt there were many systematic changes that needed to be made. Schiraldi and his colleagues utilized the Missouri model (can be found at and replicated it in their facility. The prison was refurbished to feel more like a college campus and provide more opportunities, including writing experiences that encouraged reflection, creating art, performing Shakespeare at their new theater, exercising on their ropes course, and joining the football team. While change was necessary to make Oak Hill a success story, Schiraldi emphasized the negative culture that had been in place for so many years. Once many of the old staff had left, there were more possibilities to create new change.

“Where we ended up shows the potential of what you could do if you really worked at it and took on the fights that needed to be taken on,” Schiraldi reflected at the end of his address. He articulated the need to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated in this country and to consider further the conditions that these individuals face while in confinement.

The event held by the Office of Global and Lifelong Learning promoted new ways to think about the justice system making for an exciting day of new ideas, experienced practices, and personal narratives for social workers to consider.