A New Paradigm for Social Work with Offenders?

Published: 2006

McNeill, F. (2006), A New Paradigm for Social Work with Offenders? CJScotland, online.


In an influential article published in 1979, Bottoms and McWilliams proposed the adoption of a ‘non-treatment paradigm’ for social work practice with offenders. Their argument rested on a careful analysis not only of empirical evidence about the ineffectiveness of rehabilitative treatment but also of theoretical, moral and philosophical questions about such interventions. By 1994, emerging evidence about the potential effectiveness of some intervention programmes was sufficient to lead Raynor and Vanstone to suggest significant revisions to the ‘non-treatment paradigm’. In this article, it is argued that a different but equally relevant form of empirical evidence – that derived from desistance studies – suggests a need to reevaluate these earlier paradigms for criminal justice social work practice. This is a much abbreviated version of an article entitled ‘A Desistance Paradigm for Offender Management’ which was published in the journal ‘Criminology and Criminal Justice’ January (McNeill, 2006). We are grateful to the editors of that journal for permission to use the material here.