Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

Major Professor

John G. Orme

Committee Members

Michelle S. Brown, Terri Combs-Orme, Matthew T. Theriot


Little is known about the collaboration between public defense and social work despite the growing implementation of the approach. This dissertation attempts to better understand the implications for social work practice in the public defense setting by 1) reviewing the literature to gain an understanding of social work roles, services, and practice outcomes, 2) examining demographic characteristics and criminal charges incurred by a group of clients in a public defense setting to better understand the population to develop and tailor interventions, and 3) determining the effect of social work services in terms of the number and severity of criminal charges when statistically controlling for pre-existing criminal history and demographic characteristics. Findings indicate that significant gaps exist in understanding the population of public defense clients served by social workers, making it difficult to understand how to tailor services and target interventions. A clear picture emerged of the typical social work client in one public defense setting: male, European American, unmarried, and around 34 years old at the time he began working with a social worker. Also, two distinct subgroups of social work clients were identified: a smaller group comprised of clients who predominantly incurred low-level misdemeanor charges, and a larger group comprised of clients who incurred a high number of low-level misdemeanors, but incurred a higher number of charges, in general, and were more likely to have incurred some felony charges. When comparing clients who did and did not receive social work services, results indicated that the probability of incurring a misdemeanor charge and the number of misdemeanor charges incurred during a two-year time period were lower for clients who received social work services. The probability of incurring a felony charge was lower for the legal group, but there was not a statistically significant difference between groups in the number of felony charges. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

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