Criminal Records as Predictors of Harm

Questioning Social Work’s Reliance on Records for Gatekeeping


  • Casey Bohrman West Chester University
  • Alison Updyke West Chester University
  • Brie Radis West Chester University
  • Jeanean Mohr West Chester University
  • Mia Ocean West Chester University
  • Yve Lopes Florida Department of Children and Families
  • Anais Bailly-Mompoint ABM Structured Solutions, LLC



criminal justice, gatekeeping, admission, harm, collateral consequences


The National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics requires advocacy on behalf of groups experiencing oppression, and yet it can be difficult to recognize when the oppression is emanating from the profession itself. Social work has enacted numerous barriers to entry for people with criminal records, a group that disproportionately includes people who are poor, Black, disabled, and or LGBTQ+. While previous articles have examined the role of criminal records in the social work admission process, scholars have not comprehensively examined the role criminal records play throughout the career of a social worker. This article provides an overview of how records are used in higher education admissions, licensing, and employment, highlighting the limitations of criminal records as future indicators of harm. We argue that the broad use of criminal record checks not only harms marginalized individuals with records but is a disservice to clients who would benefit from the unique strengths derived from their social work training and lived experience. We conclude with future policy directions informed by abolitionist practices including non-reformist reforms that can reduce barriers to entry into the profession and build upon the strengths of people with lived experience in the criminal legal system.


Author Biographies

Casey Bohrman, West Chester University

Associate Professor of Graduate Social Work

Alison Updyke, West Chester University

Assistant Professor of Graduate Social Work

Brie Radis, West Chester University

Assistant Professor of Undergraduate Social Work

Jeanean Mohr, West Chester University

Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions for Graduate Social Work

Mia Ocean, West Chester University

Assistant Professor of Graduate Social Work


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