The criminal justice system is among numerous organizations that impact the lives of people on a daily basis; many people find themselves in criminal organizations for various reasons (Stojkovic, Klofas & Kalinich, 2011); Individuals may get into contact with the criminal organizations as offenders, plaintiffs, complainants, prosecutors or defense counsel, employees or clients. Some of the people involved in the administration of the criminal justice organizations include the probation officers, police officers, prison officers and the court officers (Stojkovic, Klofas & Kalinich, 2011).
Every organization needs to have a form of ethics to inform the conduct of its members. This is especially important with respect to a criminal justice organization. Ethics can be defined as a system of moral principles; the system is a branch of philosophy that defines what is to be considered good or bad (Jennings, Schreck & Sturtz, 2008). Therefore, organizational ethics entail different guidelines and principles that are used to decide the way individuals should conduct themselves within an organization. In this regard, this paper examines ethics within the justice system organizations; it focuses on the ethical aspects of criminal justice organizations (Jennings, Schreck & Sturtz, 2008).
The Ethical Aspects of Criminal Justice Organizations
Criminal justice personnel often follow similar ethical codes of conduct across all criminal justice organizations (Pollock, 2011). According to various criminal justice scholars, personnel working for criminal justice organizations have the fundamental obligation to maintain the highest possible moral integrity so as to be objective at work (Banks, 2004; Siegel, 2009; Roberts, 2005). This may entail the development of personal qualities like honesty, courage, confidentiality self-control and law-compliance behaviors (Cummings, 2010). In many instances, this may also include placing others’ needs above one’s own (Turner, 2007). Besides, it is also argued that private actions of those working in criminal justice organizations should go beyond reproach. Many other experts in criminal justice have also contended that the personnel working in criminal justice organizations should be able to control themselves and not allow personal forces to influence the way they make decisions (Roberts, 2007).
However, other scholars have pointed out that ethical problems in the criminal justice system will be experienced any moment ethical codes are violated (Etienne, 2005; Margulies, 2006; Palys & Lowman, 2002). In addition, many studies have indicated that small or minute contraventions often result in larger contraventions and more dreadful consequences (Nagorcka, Stanton & Michael, 2005). In this regard, the consequences may include serious disgrace to the criminal justice system, imprisonment of otherwise innocent individuals, and the release of guilty offenders and personal sanctions to the people who contravene the requirements of ethical conducts (Nagorcka, Stanton & Michael, 2005).
Therefore, specialists in criminal justice concur that ethical standards provide guidelines on how officers of the law should conduct themselves. The meaning of this argument is that without ethical standards within the criminal justice organizations, the law would be meaningless. This is because the application of the law would not be dependable (Nagorcka, Stanton & Michael, 2005). Therefore, the position or responsibility an individual may occupy within the criminal justice organization determines how ethical standards are likely to govern one’s interactions with offenders, influence decision making processes and impacts the way the individual interprets the relevant laws. In this regard, it is important to look at the criminal justice organizations with specific reference to personnel found within the criminal justice organizations (Nagorcka, Stanton & Michael, 2005).
Some of the most important personnel in the criminal justice organizations are the defense attorneys. Ethical standards are important to the conduct of defense attorneys during their practices (Shaffer & Cochran, 2007). It is argued that an attorney who represents a client who might be found guilty of a criminal act has to ensure that they do so in fairness. Ethical standards also require that defense lawyers ensure that their clients do not give false testimony during trials in courts (Shaffer & Cochran, 2007). This implies that providing false testimony before a court of law may be considered as an obstruction of justice in the face of the law. In this case, a defense attorney should place the burden of proof on a prosecutor during court proceedings; scholars and practitioners within the justice system have emphasized that defense attorneys have ethical obligations to desist from assisting their clients in providing false testimonies. Instead, they are encouraged to convince their clients to correct any false testimony they might have made (Shaffer & Cochran, 2007).
It is also important to look at ethics in the criminal justice organizations with respect to the prosecuting attorneys. With respect to this, criminal justice scholars emphasize that prosecuting attorneys also have specific ethical standards that guide their conducts as they discharge their prosecution duties (Green, 2012; Gershman, 2011). The importance of observing ethical standards in this case is to ensure that innocent persons are not prosecuted for crimes they might not have committed. Therefore, a prosecuting attorney has an ethical responsibility to provide accurate and honest testimony before a court of law. Besides, the prosecuting attorney has an ethical responsibility to produce supportive and credible evidence to justify his or her claims (Gershman, 2011).
Police officers also have importance within criminal justice organizations. This is because police officers are the ones who are often have the first contacts with complainants and offenders within the criminal justice system. Like other personnel within the criminal justice organizations, the role of ethical standards is very important to police officers. For instance, it has been argued that ethical standards do not allow the police officers to assault or intimidate offenders or suspected criminals in order to obtain incriminating confessions (Borrelo, 2012).
Many criminal justice scholars have also extensively researched and written about the relevance of ethics with respect to the work done by judges in courts. In this case, they argue that ethics might be of more importance to judges than they are to any other personnel within the criminal justice organizations (Robie, Fybel & Moylan, 2011). This is because judges are tasked with the responsibility of interpreting the law and appropriately applying it to the criminal cases that come before them in courts. According to the arguments by the academics, judges are bound by ethical standards to fairly and independently interpret the law without allowing personal feelings, principles, religious values, personal ego and past experiences impede their court responsibilities. In other words, ethics should guide every judge in maintaining objectivity as they perform their judicial responsibilities (Robie, Fybel & Moylan, 2011).
However, the studies also indicate that there are many instances of ethical violations within the criminal justice organizations (Robie, Fybel & Moylan, 2011). This shows that despite ethical standards existing in the organizations, unethical conducts are still common within the criminal justice systems. According to another study, the upholding of ethical standards in the criminal justice organizations is threatened by issues of corruption, police brutality, unethical behaviors among agents of criminal justice and discrimination against suspects or offenders (Easterbrook, 2010). Some criminal justice pundits are of the opinion that ethical standards can only be maintained within the organizations through the establishment of ethics training programs (Easterbrook, 2010). The pundits argue that when the top management of criminal justice organizations zealously emphasize the need to observe ethical standards, unethical conducts will greatly be diminished (Easterbrook, 2010). In addition, it is acknowledged that the disciplinary actions against unethical behaviors are very effective in helping maintain ethical standards within the criminal justice organizations. However, the issue of ethics within the organizations still remains a serious issue that criminal justice experts are still grappling with (Easterbrook, 2010).
Criminal justice organizations greatly influence the lives of individuals within the society. The organizations are very instrumental in helping the society deal with anti-social and issues that violate the law. It is important to note that ethics are very important in terms of regulating the conduct of the members of the society. In this regard, the ethical aspects of the criminal justice organizations have been given significant considerations. In the opinion of various criminal justice scholars, criminal personnel have the fundamental obligation to maintain the highest possible moral integrity. This may include the development of personal qualities like honesty, courage, and confidentiality self-control and low-compliance behavior. This means that the achievement of justice for those who seek it greatly depends on the ethical standards observed within the criminal justice organizations. In this case, lack of ethical standards, or the violation of them, can potentially result in obstruction of justice.
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