Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice

2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities: Recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress

Grand challenges for social work

In the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society’s margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bar access to civil and human rights. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge. All of these actions are critical to fostering a successful society.


Continue To Reform the Criminal Legal Justice System and Promote Smart Decarceration


The most glaring example is the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. The murder of Mr. Floyd and many other Black and Brown people reinforced the indisputable fact that the excessive force by law enforcement is an unmitigated crisis. It also exposed the undeniable reality of systemic racism in policing and in other sectors of the nation’s criminal legal system. Moreover, it exposed the crisis of overcriminalization and how an excessive reliance on punitive enforcement feeds the problem of mass incarceration. Discrimination based on race and a criminal record can all but disqualify these Black men and women from housing, education, or employment and in some places can permanently bar them from voting.

The administration and Congress must act to accelerate an end to systemic racism in policing and throughout the legal justice and carceral system. There is also an urgent need for continued comprehensive reforms of these systems so they ensure equal justice for all.

NASW calls on national leaders to:

  • Advance policing reform, including passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (S. 3912/H.R. 7120, lead House sponsor social worker Rep. Karen Bass) and similar legislation to create national use of force standards, increase police accountability, and incentivize culture change in policing.
  • Pass the Community-Based Response Act (S. 4791/H.R. 8474 in the 116th Congress)which provides a grant program that would improve our emergency response capabilities by deploying social workers as first responders in lieu of police.
  • Implement broad-based diversion efforts across the continuum of sequential intercepts for people with mental health and/or substance use disorder to prevent arrest and incarceration.
  • Require law enforcement receiving federal funding to train officers in recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use disorder as well as de-escalation models, with all having specialized training such as Crisis Intervention Team, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and Mental Health First Aid.
  • Advance sentencing reform to reduce the federal prison population, including drug law reform such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (S. 2227/H.R. 3884 in the 116th Congress).
  • Improve and fully fund First Step Act implementation.
  • Expand the reach of federal expungement law.
  • End the predatory system of cash bail.
  • Incentivize community-led strategies to remedy inequities in law enforcement.