An analysis of ‘ethical stress’ in criminal justice social work in Scotland: the place of values

Jane Fenton (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper, based on a study of criminal justice social workers in Scotland, investigates ‘ethical stress’ generated by the inability of workers to base their practice on social work values. The study was operationalised via questionnaires and statistical and inductive analyses were undertaken. The hypothesis was that features of criminal justice social work (CJSW) impact on workers’ experience of ethical stress, namely the agency’s approach to risk, the ethical climate of the agency and the approach to the work with offenders. Results suggest that:
    • the more risk averse and managerial a workplace is perceived to be, the more ethical stress will be experienced;
    • senior social workers play an important role; and
    • the approach to working with offenders does not seem to have a direct effect on ethical stress.
    The last finding, and analysis of the comments, demonstrate that respondents were very clear that public protection/risk work takes priority over welfare work. This is experienced as a practical, rather than an ethical, problem and casts doubt on whether social workers in CJSW are fully embracing social work values. It is suggested that criminal justice social workers are fundamentally influenced by the ‘new penological’ impact of the Scottish Government.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1415-1432
    Number of pages18
    JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
    Issue number5
    Early online date9 Apr 2014
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


    • Ethical stress
    • Values
    • Scotland
    • Criminal justice


    Dive into the research topics of 'An analysis of ‘ethical stress’ in criminal justice social work in Scotland: the place of values'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this