Ethics in the Justice System
In simple definition, the word “ethics” means; a system of moral principles, the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc. , moral principles as of an individual, and that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions (Dictionary. com). Even the definition, as clear as it is, cannot begin to encompass what this word truly means to those who live in and work for our justice system.
Depending on the branch of the justice system that they are employed in, each person will have their own set of moral and ethical values, as well as those that are required by the position they hold. The tricky part can be to decide which set of values to follow in a situation where there may be a choice, and if so, how does one go about making that choice. Do they possibly sacrifice their personal ethics to follow those that are required by their position? Is it ok for them to bypass those standards of their professional code of ethics in order to maintain their personal standards?
When it gets to the point of questioning whose ethics to follow, one has to wonder who decides which set of ethics is more important if there is a difference. People who are employed into the Justice System have exhibited strength of mind and body that prove they are worthy to be in charge if those who may be a danger to society. This fact alone places these individuals in a position of power, and without a personal and professional code of ethics to live by; this power could be taken out of context.
This could lead to damage within the system, as well as out on the street. A personal set of ethics can often be hard to define. Ethics are not on our minds as we make various choices throughout the day. When we sub-consciously make one judgment or another, we are not aware that our personal ethics have guided those judgments. We are entirely too busy as a society to micro-manage our thoughts, feelings and choices in that manner. We make our choices, and move on, often without any retrospect to the issue.
There are a few who are able to recognize the choices and judgments they make as ethical dilemmas, and those people are often the ones who are looked up to as upstanding citizens in their communities. I think we all can have a bit of envy for those who always seem to make the right choice, even in times of pressure. In addition to the complexity of ethics as a whole, we also need to consider that there are two main “branches” of ethical values; Deontological Ethics, and Teleological Ethics.
The definition of deontological ethics reads: the branch of ethics dealing with right action and the nature of duty, without regard to the goodness or value of motives or the desirability of the ends of any act (Dictionary. com). In simpler terms, it means that a person is to do what is lawful and widely accepted as proper, regardless of intention or reward. A person who follows a deontological set of ethics is one who is going to be a law abiding citizen, who has no empathy for law breakers in any context. They will always follow the rules, and believe that there should be no deviation from those rules, even in unconventional circumstances.
Teleological ethics are the opposite, with a definition that reads: the branch of ethics dealing primarily with the relative goodness or value of the motives and end of any action (Dictionary. com). In laymen’s terms, this means that any action, even if against the law, can be considered good as long as the person had good intentions. For example, if a man walks into a bank, and robs it at gunpoint, this action could potentially be acceptable as long as his intent was to give the money to the poor so they could eat and have a warm place to sleep.
Although the action was clearly wrong, his intent was noble. Most workplace ethical standards try to fall in the middle of these two types. Generally, most will follow the rules of a deontological set of values, however, there does need to be a place in our hearts for those circumstances where someone has to do a “wrong” in order to do right. These times are rare, and should not be completely given over to, but we need to be aware that not all the rules work for everyone, and there does need to be room for those situations that are unforeseeable.
If I were required to write out a code of ethics for myself, I believe it would read something like this: •Respect the space, belongings, feelings and wellbeing of all others on this planet, regardless of their stature, status or involvement in your life. •Always take into consideration the feelings of those around you before you make a choice that could impact their lives. •Helping those who need help is not an option, it is mandatory as long as you can do so without taking anything from your own family. Do not engage in slander, demoralization, or any other type of belittling for any reason, even if the person has done something wrong to you. Two wrongs do not make a right. •Give of yourself. Share time, thoughts, feelings and smiles freely. •We only live once, follow your wants and desires while always maintaining self integrity. Truly, a set of personal ethical standards is hard to put in writing if you have not been aware of your own choices, and what guided you through these choices. Previous to this class, I have not spent much time self evaluating the decisions that I make and actions that I have taken over the years.
I have known that there are things in society that I disagree with, and I have standards about how people should be treated, but never analyzed where those beliefs and feelings originated from. A professional code of ethics is quite different however. A professional code of ethics is designed so that each of the people who are required to follow those standards can do so while maintaining their own integrity as well. A professional code of ethics is put in place so that each of the employees has a basic standard that they must uphold.
There are many types of jobs available in the criminal justice field. The position that I would be interested in obtaining myself is the position of a correctional officer. This position comes with a set of ethical standards, and they are desperately needed. Being a corrections officer places these people in direct contact with criminals, most often behind bars for a long time. Being in this position, a correctional officer would have a lot of power, and have the ability to do a lot of “favors” for the inmates they supervise.
A list of ethical standards for a correctional officer could read like this: •No State officer or employee shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business or transaction or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict without proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. •No State officer or employee shall engage in any particular business, profession, trade or occupation which is subject to licensing or regulation b a specific agency of State without promptly filing notice of such ctivity, with the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards, if he is an officer or employee in the Executive Branch. •No State officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others. •No State officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter wherein he has a direct or indirect personal financial interest that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment. No State officer or employee shall undertake any employment or service, whether compensated or not, which might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity and independence or judgment in the exercise of his official duties. •No State officer or employee shall accept any gift, favor, service or other thing of value under circumstances from which it might be reasonably inferred: that such gift, service or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing him in the discharge of his official duties. No State officer or employee shall knowingly act in any way that might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of his acts that he may be engaged in conduct violative of his trust as a State officer or employee. •This code is intended to augment but not to replace existing Department Administrative Orders and pertinent professional codes of ethics. •Violations of this code of ethics shall be cause for removal, suspension, demotion or other disciplinary action by the Department.
No disciplinary action shall be taken, however, except upon the referral or with the approval of the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards. (NJ, DOC) By any standards, these are a very strict set of ethical values to live by, both in a professional, as well as personal setting. Being a correctional officer places people in direct contact with inmates who may have alternate motives, and who are highly motivated to get favors done for them. Keeping interactions with these inmates on a professional level can be tough at times, but it is in the best interest of all involved.
One of the big issues in corrections is that often, and especially in the bigger jails and prisons, is that the officers can form a sort of alliance within the jails, and create their own code of ethics. Often, this unwritten code is one that is aimed at keeping the officers in a position of power, and making sure that they pose a united front against the inmates that they have contact with. If put on paper, this code might read along these lines: •Always aid a fellow officer. •Do not bring in drugs or weapons for inmates. •Never inform on a fellow officer, even if you disagree or don’t like it. When in a dispute with an inmate, always support the officer, regardless of the type of dispute, and regardless of if you agree. •Always support the use of force. •Always be generally supportive of fellow officers, either behind the desk or with the inmates. •Do not show sympathy to inmates for any reason. (Ethics in Crime and Justice) While showing a united front against the inmates can be a good thing in most jails, the idea behind this unwritten code of ethics is for each officer to support the others entirely, regardless of any moral or ethical conflicts this might create.
These ideals can easily lead to corruption in the system, and are the root of a lot of our officers who eventually govern by their own rules. The criminal justice field is one that is vast and seemingly endless at times. We have people that work strictly behind a desk, and rarely face ethical issues, we have our police officers who are on the streets, and we have those who work within our jails, escorting and watching over our inmates.
These positions are tough, and are not for those who do not have the ability to stand up to ethical dilemmas and be strong in the face of adversity. Overall, our justice system does what it can to produce employees who are strong of mind and body, and who are able to uphold those ethics that we consider to be important in their position. Personal ethics and professional ethics will all meet at some point, regardless of the position that is held, be it in a fast food restaurant, or in the line of duty as a corrections officer.
We all must remember that it is not always easy to do the right thing, but in the end, the right thing is justifiable by any means, and foregoing any professional code of ethics is not going to help anyone. My own personal set of ethics is different than a professional ser of ethics. My professional ethic beliefs are rather simple; do what is required, and remain honest and upstanding in all that I do. This does follow the ideals of a general code of ethics for a corrections officer, but is vastly different than the unwritten code of correctional officers.
I do not think I would be capable of following the unwritten code of ethics. I would rather be disliked by my fellow officers than have to go along with something that I find morally or ethically unacceptable. My personality would not allow me to show zero sympathy to inmates that I was able to relate to, and I would not be able to sit idly by when a fellow officer was using more force than was necessary while dealing with an inmate. I do believe in rules, and that inmates are required to follow those rules, but would be unable to accept inappropriate behavior by other officers.
Perhaps this would make me unpopular, but that is something that I have dealt with before in other situations, and as long as it is because I was doing the right thing, then that makes it worth it in the end. Reference: ethics. (n. d. ). Dictionary. com Unabridged (v 1. 1). Retrieved August 14, 2008, from Dictionary. com website: http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/ethics Department of corrections code of ethics. (undated). Retrieved 08/14/2008, from http://ethics. iit. edu/codes/coe/state. nj. corrections. html.