edited by David W. Springer and Albert R. Roberts; New York, Springer Publishing Company, 2007, 623 pages, $95
Dr. Kaempf is a forensic psychiatry fellow and Dr. Pinals is the codirector of the Law and Psychiatry Program at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.
Forensic social work is a relatively new construct, though the presence of social workers in courtroom settings, defense- and prosecution-based attorney practices, and forensic mental health settings has become increasingly common over the past decade. Putting a treatise together that reflects the wide-ranging involvement of social workers in the field presents some challenges. Handbook of Forensic Mental Health With Victims and Offenders is a recent addition to the Springer Series on Social Work that attempts to cover the necessary groundwork. By collecting 25 thoughtful chapters, the editors strive to provide social workers with a comprehensive, research-based guide to delivering mental health services within the context of the legal system.
In the first chapter, the editors introduce the reader to some of the challenges, controversies, and emerging trends in present-day forensic social work. They highlight the fact that most academic curricula do not offer forensic-specific social work training, despite social work's growing relevance within the justice system. The editors set out to narrow this discrepancy between formal education and real-world practice.
The ensuing four chapters deal with risk assessment, expert testimony, mitigation, and the treatment of batterers. Although several of these chapters focus specifically on child welfare and domestic violence cases, the data provided can be applied to an array of forensic practices. For example, in chapter 4, "Forensic Social Work and Expert Witness Testimony in Child Welfare," the author reviews differences between expert and fact witnesses, qualifications required to be admitted as an expert, report writing techniques, guidelines for what to expect in the courtroom, and all information integral to effective testimony, regardless of the nature of the case. Because of its general utility and practical guidance, this chapter is one of the strengths of the book.
The next nine chapters center around juvenile justice and include in-depth discussions of treatment of youths with dual diagnoses, juvenile psychopathy, racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, and substance abuse treatment. The subsequent five chapters bring attention to forensic programs for adult offenders and offer well-thought-out discourses on drug courts, mental health services in jails, treatment of HIV-infected incarcerated women, trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder among inmates, and recidivism prevention. The final four chapters provide stimulating dialogues on restorative justice and victim-offender mediation.
Though the chapters are sometimes uneven in their coverage of particular topics, several elements of the book stand out as strong points. First, the text contains excellent, up-to-date, thorough literature reviews and is well referenced. Next, many of the chapters are followed by lists of relevant resources for practitioners that include useful Web sites and telephone numbers. Third, a number of the chapters thoughtfully consider cultural and gender issues as they pertain to forensic social work. Last, and perhaps most noteworthy, evidence-based practice is stressed throughout the text, encouraging the reader to seek out and evaluate empirical data and apply it to his or her own professional work.
The use of the word "handbook" in the title is misleading. This is not a quick, "how-to" introductory reference manual for basic forensic mental health or forensic social work practice. Rather, this is an advanced, comprehensive, and analytical compilation designed to provide social workers with a body of knowledge for evidence-based, culturally competent, multidisciplinary practice in real-world settings.
The editors note in the introduction that surprisingly few accredited social work programs offer specialized forensic education. This lack of formal training is bewildering given the current frequency in which social workers play vital and well-suited roles in delivering forensic mental health services. Thus far, few books have set out to tackle practical and ethical nuances for social workers who provide health and human services in the legal arena.
One might initially hesitate at the cost of this book. However, Handbook of Forensic Mental Health With Victims and Offenders is a worthwhile investment. It serves as an essential, timely resource for trainees and seasoned professionals practicing in the rapidly developing field of forensic social work.