Street-Level Bureaucracy, Interprofessional Relations and Coping Mechanisms: A Study of Criminal Justice Social Workers in the Sentencing Process

Simon Halliday, Nicola Burns, Neil Hutton, Fergus McNeill, Cyrus Tata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article builds on the work of Michael Lipsky and develops an argument
about the significance of interprofessional working for street-level bureaucracy.
It presents an ethnographic analysis of criminal justice social workers writing
presentence reports for the Scottish courts. Social workers’ report writing for
judges brought into relief issues of relative professional status. Social workers
were uncertain of their place within the legal domain and concerned about their
credibility as criminal justice professionals. Reports were written, in part at
least, as a way of seeking esteem and credibility in the eyes of judges—a motivation that undermined the policy objectives of social enquiry in sentencing.
Applying the conceptual tools of Bourdieu to our findings, we argue that streetlevel
bureaucrats who have to work across bureaucratic “fields” may find, or
fear, that the cultural and symbolic “capital” they retained within their own
field is undervalued in the symbolic economy of new fields, putting them in a
position of relative inferiority. This issue of relative professional status, and
how officials respond to it, is significant for our understanding of street-level
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-428
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Law and Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


  • criminal justice
  • street-level bureaucracy
  • status
  • Bourdieu
  • public administration

Cite this