What Should I Consider Before Becoming a Prison Social Worker?

Becoming a Prison Social Worker

What should you consider before becoming a prison social worker? Some important things to keep in mind are the overall atmosphere of the prison system. There are warring gangs, overcrowded conditions, shortage of funds, and the potential threats to personal safety both inside and outside of prison.

Social Work in Prisons

Social workers are the fabric that keeps families and society woven together. The assistance that social workers can provide to the most vulnerable people cannot be rewarded enough. The empathy and support of social work is fundamental. Unfortunately, this same compassion that is crucial to helping can also lead to trouble when working in a prison environment.

Gangs of Domestic Terrorists

One facet to consider is that the prisoners are just as organized as the officers. There are multiple prison gangs that have been around for generations and control violent activities inside and outside of the prison walls. Specialized task forces have been set up by authorities to identify and manage higher ranking gang members in prison. The dangers they present are so great that officers consider gangs to be domestic terrorists.

New, youthful offenders are often forced to join a gang for protection while incarcerated. Gang members constantly fight with other gangs in prison. The prison staff has to carefully keep them apart to avoid bloodshed. The only way out of a gang is death. Anyone who leaves a gang is in constant fear for their life because they know their former members will kill them. There is very little a social worker can do to avoid the very real dangers of gangs and/or helping people escape the gang life.


Overcrowded and Underfunded

Many prisons in the U.S. are overcrowded and underfunded. Overcrowding in U.S. prisons is a serious problem with 18 states operating at over 100 percent capacity Housing a large group of dangerous criminals together in facilities that were not designed to hold that many prisoners presents many dangers for prisoners and staff. A social worker alone cannot change or rectify these significant structural issues. This could lead to frustration and depression for the social worker who will be unable to help with the multiple problems created by overpopulation in the penal system. Add on to of this that funds are being cut in many prison systems and you are met with some drastic situations.

Dangers Inside and Outside of Prison

Surviving while inside an often outdated and full beyond capacity prison facility is difficult enough but, even on the outside, a social worker needs to be careful. The gangs inside of prison are well connected to its affiliates on the streets. Prisoners have a lot of time to think about the prison staff and obtain personal information. This could lead to threats to a social worker’s personal safety if or when criminals find out where they life and who their family members are. This could lead to extortion, threats to life, or other dangerous situations for the social worker.

Related Resource: The Top 10 Best Online Social Work Degree Programs

Working in a prison system can be exciting and educational but only if a social worker knows what potential pitfalls await. Being outnumbered by large numbers of organized, unhappy prisoners in less than ideal conditions may be more than you bargained for. Any social worker considering working in a prison should take the time to learn everything they can about prison life. Consider the overall conditions of the prison that you are considering working for and what you need to do to ensure your safety if you decide to accept a prison job.