Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Barragan, Armando


Research has demonstrated that implicit bias is an inescapable part of the human experience that can have harmful repercussions. Its effects can be seen particularly in the criminal justice system where those of marginalized groups are disproportionately represented. Social workers in the public defender’s office representing indigent clients in the criminal justice system, implicit bias can negatively impact client outcomes or service access. This study sought to explore how these social workers understand implicit bias in their work and will be conducted using qualitative analysis through the use of interviews and document review. This research found that social workers in this setting identify in ways that are very different from their clients and view the resulting implicit bias as an important hurdle to overcome. Social workers reported that working with clients who are similar to them can increase rapport but also introduce issues of countertransference. When working with clients who are different from them, social workers found it most challenging to serve clients with worldviews they found personally offensive, such as homophobia or white supremacy. Social workers of more privileged identities found ways to leverage this advantage to best serve their clients. The participants in this study had mixed feelings on whether or not differences in identity between social workers and clients increase implicit bias or impact client outcomes. There are many larger factors that increase the risk of implicit bias, which participants feel can be mitigated with training and more diverse teams.

Included in

Social Work Commons