represent a key element in the manner humans interact. Without ethics and morals, people would always conflict with each other over minor issues. All professionals rely on ethics and set standards in their course of operations. Any person who works in contravention of the set ethical standards may face sanctions as provided by the set-out guidelines. However, some professions, such as law enforcement require more strict ethical standards compared to others due to the issues that confront them. The expectations of the people, as well as the nature of the tasks conducted, require high levels of integrity. The paper discusses ethics in the criminal justice system by evaluating theories and ethical issues that confront police officers, attorneys, and correctional officers in their line of duty, noting to raise alternative viewpoints in the discussion.
The criminal justice system symbolizes how a nation treats its people in their quest for justice and maintenance of law and order. A good criminal justice system must offer hope in the people by ensuring that justice is served equally and without delay. A nation without a competent criminal justice system suffers from high levels of crime, which in turn affects growth and development. As such, huge amounts of resources must be directed towards ensuring the criminal justice system is up and running. In the United States, the criminal justice system comprises several departments, including the police force, the judiciary, and the correctional facilities (Peck, 2016). These departments require working together to ensure that justice is dispensed accordingly. The professionals working under these departments must also ensure that they conduct themselves with the required decorum, despite the issues that confront them, ensuring they maintain high levels of ethics as provided in their respective codes of ethics and conducts.
Professionals in the criminal justice system face numerous issues that test their adherence to ethical standards. In some circumstances, these issues result in some officers failing to uphold the required ethical standards. The police officers and members of the judiciary face more ethical challenges compared to their counterparts in the correctional facilities since their input determines the people who end in prisons.
First, these officers face the challenge of using the appropriate force when dealing with purported criminals. This ethical issue confronts police officers as well as correctional officers. Police officers are expected to show up in crime scenes to arrest and detain criminals. In some circumstances, the suspected criminals are armed with dangerous weapons, which pose a challenge. In the United States, police officers have been accused of using excessive force when dealing with criminals (Patton et al. 2017). The force used does not in most cases match the threat posed by the purported criminals. They end up shooting dead suspects and in some cases cause grievous bodily harm. The issue of work ethics arises in such circumstances, majorly due to the extent of force used. The police officers must not use unnecessary force in circumstances that do not threaten their lives or those of other people. Killing suspects in such circumstances is an ethical issue based on what was appropriate at that moment. The questions asked may include the following. Was the excessive force necessary? Was there another way of dealing with the suspect? In the case of officers in correctional facilities, the use of force when dealing with rogue inmates also arises. Correctional facilities suffer from violence arising from the conduct of inmates due to diverse reasons (Clear et al. 2018). Some inmates become excessively violent, resulting in the use of violence to calm them down. Unfortunately, the force used may result in injuries on the inmates, which also raises an issue of ethics. Despite the opposition of using force by most people, I believe that the use of force is necessary when dealing with criminal suspects who pose threats however minute the danger is. Most people cry foul when criminals are violently dealt with, but few get concerned about the safety of our officers.
Profiling of people affects the manner officers in the criminal justice system conduct their duties. The issue of profiling people appears in all the departments raising the issue of ethics in the profession. In the United States, most profiling is done premised on race, leading to people from some races facing more scrutiny than others. Despite the criminal justice system being the epitome of hope among the population, profiling of people prevents some people from getting justice. Most notably, people of color in the US suffer most due to profiling by security agencies. The population of African Americans and Latinos who get arrested, taken to court, and jailed remained relatively higher than the Whites. Further, the likelihood of a police officer using excessive force against profiled citizens remains high. In fact, most of the suspects killed or fatally shot in the course of arrests are normally people of color. In 2013, the death of Trayvon Martin led to the creation of a human rights movement dubbed “Black Lives Matter” due to the increased killing of unarmed black youths (Rickford, 2016). In the courts, the conviction rates and severance of penalties against some races are higher. Despite the courts relying on evidence provided in court, the high conviction rates of some races remain questionable. The issue of ethics arising as a result of the actions of the responsible officers requires more considerations. For instance, why would a police officer shoot an unarmed suspect despite his surrender? What are officers expected to do in such cases? The ethical questions arising from such circumstances are many, making decision making a challenge.
Officers in the criminal justice system have lives outside their line of duty. These officers have families and friends just like all other people. However, their jobs require them to act in a manner that prevents them from fully enjoying their lives. Numerous ethical issues arise from how people expect them to conduct themselves even when not on duty. For instance, a police officer on off duty may be required to act in the event he/she finds a suspect engaging in criminal activities. The ethical issue of whether or not to apprehend such a person vis a vis the reaction of the people who know the officer arises. The behaviors of law enforcers while out of duty also raise ethical issues. For instance, people may fail to understand why a police officer would indulge in taking alcohol or walking late at night. Court officers, and especially judges and attorneys, face more challenges in this case. They are expected to live impeccable lives, away from unnecessary limelight. The ethical issue on how they should live a normal life and enjoy themselves arises. Their association with friends and colleagues, in most cases, come under scrutiny since they must give impartial decisions. Due to the pressures that court officers face, some end up snapping and falling victim to unethical conduct. They end up associating with people they should not, or conduct activities that affect the performance of their obligations. In my view, officers working in the criminal justice system must live impeccable lives due to the nature of their work. They must ensure that people derive confidence in the justice system at all times. However, people must also support them and ensure they live normal lives outside their job descriptions. Acknowledging their human nature ensures that they act in ethical ways whenever faced with challenges.
The issue of impartiality by officers in the criminal justice system also raises ethical issues. Impartiality ensures that people get justice at all times. Police officers, attorneys, and correctional officers must remain impartial at all times. Their conduct must highlight that no biasness exists in their decisions. Police officers require arresting or conducting their duties without fail and in the most appropriate manner. They must not attempt to interfere with evidence by fixing suspects to warrant arrest. For instance, a police officer who has reason to believe that a suspect has a history of trafficking drugs may consider planting the drugs to warrant an arrest. Secondly, an attorney must not refuse to take up matters without reasonable reasons to decline. Having legal representation is an element of improved access to justice and ensures that accused persons benefit from professional legal assistance (Paxi-Cato & McDermott, 2018). Declining to represent a client or conspiring to raise fake evidence against another person also raises ethical issues that may affect how the attorney conducts business. In the case of correctional officers, they may face an ethical issue when allocating duties to inmates. Corruption and interference in the prison system may compel the officers to adopt unethical conduct. Impartiality must portray in all officers working in the criminal justice system. No alternative to impartiality exists since natural justice requires impartiality. The ethical issue that faces these officers relating to impartiality must be addressed and dealt without remorse.
Ethical issues are complex and are best described by evaluating various theories to understand and appreciate them. Numerous scholars have, over the years, discussed theories that outline how ethics affect people in their respective professions. Ethical theories regarding the criminal justice system include ethical egoism, Kantian theory, hedonism, and existentialism.
Ethical egoism is an ethical approach that suggests that people ought to act in their best interest at all times. The ego of the moral agent must be satisfied by the actions done. The actions that benefit the doer are, therefore, considered ethical despite their effect on other people (Fang & Slavin, 2018). In the criminal justice system, this theory fits appropriately due to the manner officers conduct their duties. The officers face circumstances that require their judgment before dealing with them. Law officers are human and, as such are bound to develop certain attitudes and ideas regarding an issue. In the process, they may act dishonestly or gather self-motivation over a particular issue. They are also likely to suffer from instances of conflict in their line of duty. In so doing, such officers may conduct activities that benefit self, without due care. The ethical standards in such cases become a thing of the past, provided the ego of the officers remain intact and satisfied. They feel entitled to all other people despite their duty to uphold the law, lawfully. One of the most evident manners that the officers may depict egoism is by engaging in corruption. Corruption is a serious issue that affects the manner the criminal justice system work. Corrupt officers lead to deficiency in the administration of justice. The people fail to trust the criminal justice system, leading to anarchy and anguish. The theory also relies on the assumption that individuals shouldn’t unreasonably prevent others from performing their tasks. In this case, criminal justice officers must ensure that they dealt with people who pose a danger or those who prevent them from conducting their duties appropriately.
The theory of hedonism also fits in criminal justice premised on the actions that the officers perform as well as the expectations of the people. Proponents of hedonism argue that all people have the liberty of using all powers at their disposal to achieve high levels of pleasure. Further, they argue that the pleasures must surpass the amount of pain and suffering (Chamberlain, Hill, & Shaw, 2018). Hedonism applies in criminal justice in various ways. For instance, an attorney may be inclined to win a case at whatever costs. Winning the case may provide the attorney with pleasure making it necessary for him/her to employ dubious means to win the case. Trial advocacy requires that the attorneys must conduct themselves professionally by adopting and observing the set ethics of the profession. However, an attorney who decides to win a matter at any cost may engage in unethical conduct. The attorney may engage in sharp practice, procure false witnesses, or mislead the court. Ethics in the criminal justice system requires that the officers use their power to further justice in society. Their pleasure must not supersede the happiness of their subjects or lead to indulgence in criminal and unethical conduct. The government requires adoption of measures aimed at ensuring that officers conduct themselves ethically.
The third approach refers to existentialism theory, which gained more publicity in the twentieth century. Proponents of existentialism argue that people must be forced to choose or act responsibly without the aid of traditions, laws, and ethics (Kondrla & Pavlikova, 2016). The people must be self-driven regardless of the situations they find themselves. In the process of adopting existentialism, the moral agent develops self-awareness through free will. The theory includes elements such as human free will and personal responsibilities. The proponents of this theory do not support social values, wealth, and that science makes life better. Understanding the whole concept of existentialism is an uphill task that requires more insight into the subject. Professionals in the criminal justice system are required to conduct themselves in a manner that portrays them positively. Upholding professional standards in their respective professions needs more than just following orders made by their superiors. They must learn to be self-driven at all times and ensure they uphold the law. For instance, they must not allow unethical conduct to deter them from achieving their professional objectives. For instance, correctional officers must ensure that they treat the inmates professionally. They must not physically assault them to make them follow orders; instead, they can use other humane measures to achieve the same objectives.
The Kantian theory of ethics may also apply in the criminal justice system based on the nature of the duties officers perform. The officers deal with people of various backgrounds, making it challenging for them to reach a compromise regarding some issues. The United States comprised of people from different countries who carry along with their culture and way of life. As such, conflicts may arise in circumstances where the criminal justice system professionals fail to agree with their subjects. Proponents of the Kantian theory argue that a permissible act must apply to all other people without contradiction (Baron, 2018). Any contradiction is interpreted as failure since permissible issues cannot contradict. In criminal justice system, the theory applies in circumstances whereby the officers are required to uphold the lie without lying or engaging in corruption. Their duties must be conducted perfectly. For instance, an attorney must tell the court the truth to ensure justice prevails at all times. Truth represents one of the ethical duties that all people regardless of culture and traditions permit. In criminal justice, a slight contradiction may have serious consequences on the parties involved. Criminal matters must be heard and determined beyond reasonable doubt. The doubt in this test represents the contradiction and may be fatal during the court process.
The criminal justice system must be one that upholds the laws it seeks to safeguard. The officers work in an environment that requires them to observe ethical values. However, they face numerous challenges during their course of duty, exposing them to unethical conduct. Some fall into temptations and may result in using excessive force or profiling, innocent people. Attorneys may also fall victim to unethical conduct, exposing them to wayward ways when dealing with court matters. Scholars identify the issue of ethics and research the topic, resulting in the development of several theories. These theories, as discussed in the paper, guide readers who aspire to learn about ethics in their respective professions. It is vital that ethics continue a key element in the criminal justice system since justice must be served and felt.
Baron, M. W. (2018). Kantian ethics almost without apology. Cornell University Press.
Chamberlain, S., Hill, D., & Shaw, D. (2018). Hedonism: A Phenomenological Study of Pleasure and Pain in Everyday Ethical Consumption. ACR European Advances.
Clear, T. R., Reisig, M. D., & Cole, G. F. (2018). American corrections. Cengage learning.
Fang, J., & Slavin, N. (2018). Ethics–Comparing Ethical Egoism with Confucius’s Golden Rule. Journal of Business and Economic Studies, 22(1), 17-31.
Kondrla, M., & Pavlikova, M. (2016). From Formal Ethics to Existential Ethics. European J. of Science and Theology,12(3), 101-111.
Patton, C. L., Asken, M., Fremouw, W. J., & Bemis, R. (2017). The influence of police profanity on public perception of excessive force. Journal of police and criminal psychology,32(4), 340-357.
Paxi-Cato, S., & McDermott, Y. (2018). The Role of Legal Education, Regulation and Government in Protecting Access to Justice. Nottingham LJ, 27, 1.
Peck, J. H. (2016). Contemporary issues of race/ethnicity, offending behavior, and justice responses.
Rickford, R. (2016, January). Black lives matter: Toward a modern practice of mass struggle. In New Labor Forum (Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 34-42). Sage, CA: Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.