The Law and Social Work Services Program, the leading joint venture of its type, provides practicum placements for master’s degree social work students as well as pro-bono services to the community in cooperating with the Carey School of Law.
Students in the program take competency-building and theoretical courses taught by Social Work school faculty before and during their practicum placements. Rebecca Bowman-Rivas, director of the Law & Social Work Services Program and the placement supervisor, teaches additional classes on a range of practice-based and theory-related topics and supervises the students in their work.
Bowman-Rivas has been invited to the give the keynote address at the School of Social Work’s 2017 Annual Alumni Homecoming, addressing not only the value of the program to students, but also the impact of the program on the people of Baltimore.
“Ms. Bowman-Rivas exemplifies the commitment of the School of Social Work and the Carey School of Law to social justice in action. She has been a life-changer for those recently released from prison as well as MSW students who she teaches in the Clinical Law Program and in the classroom,” said Richard Barth, professor and dean of the School of Social Work. “We are thrilled that she has agreed to talk to our alumni at Homecoming about her work.”
A shared goal in the partnership between the two schools is the reduction of unnecessary incarceration. In 2012, Maryland’s highest court ordered that 232 elderly life-sentenced prisoners be given new trials. On average, they were 64 years old and had been in prison for 40 years.
Bowman-Rivas works with the Law School's clinical faculty to provide services to the 232 individuals. She helped to create a team that included her social work students—more than 30 over the last four years—and staff, Elizabeth Smith and Angela Aloi, both funded by Open Society Institute-Baltimore grants.
"Rebecca is an invaluable partner to the Clinical Law Program,” added Renée Hutchins, Jacob A. France Professor of Public Interest Law and co-director of Maryland Carey Law’s Clinical Law Program. “She enhances our ability to provide truly wrap-around services to our clients."
This program has achieved remarkable results in the last several years.
Rather than re-trying these geriatric prisoners, prosecutors have negotiated the releases of 160 prisoners to date. In large part, the releases are due to the work of Bowman-Rivas' team, who working with Office of Public Defender social workers, have promised and provided both pre-release and post-release services.
These services have given prosecutors and courts confidence that the 160 prisoners could be released safely. The post-release services have included help in finding a place to live, in obtaining legally-entitled benefits, in obtaining needed medical and counseling care, and in managing all of the day-to-day challenges of reentering society.
One important measure of success of the law and social work efforts is that the recidivist rate for this group, measured by new convictions, is zero percent. None of the 160, released in groups over four years, has been convicted of a new crime, other than a traffic or driving offense. Moreover, there have been no probation revocations; that is, no judge has ordered that probation be revoked in a single one of these 160 cases.
Those released are living lawfully in the free world, primarily in Baltimore City, in significant part because of the social work services that the Bowman-Rivas team has provided. The partnership is considered a model of interdisciplinary clinical professional education and justice.