Ethics is a moral philosophy that deals with the rights and wrongs of how we live. The study of ethics is dived into three branches: meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Meta-ethics deals with the literature and interpretation of ethical terms (Close, & Meir, 1994, p. 134). The other branch, normative ethics deals with behaviors and standards of conduct. Applied ethics deals with moral issues that arise especially in professions such as law. This is therefore the branch that is referred to when dealing with issues related to justice and criminology (Close, & Meir, 1994, p. 145).
On the other hand, morality can be defined as being personal or cultural values, as well as personal beliefs of what is right or wrong. Morality and morals can be influenced by religion and the society in which a person lives. Ethics and morality go hand in hand when trying to curb injustice and unfairness, and determine a person’s behaviors (Pollock, 2011, p. 13). However, the two differ in that ethics can be used to guide the way people behave while morality focuses on personal principles and conduct. Ethics define the code of conduct of a particular group of people. Morality is the inner conviction on how a person living within a particular setting should behave in a given situation.
Ethics and morality are important when dealing with issues concerning criminal justice (Pollock, 2011, p.14). Professionals in the criminal justice field should uphold high standards of codes of ethics and should be of high morals, so as to carry out their duties without any form of biasness (Pollock, 2011, p.90). They should also possess certain leadership skills since at one point of their career; they will have to be leaders of their own or a group of people under them. In the chance that the professionals disregard the code of ethics, they are bound to make mistakes (Close, & Meir, 1994, p. 425). This is because their responsibility mainly involves making decisions about other people and their fates. It is however very unfortunate that so many cases of unethical conduct have been reported from the field of criminal justice. Most of the professionals tend to disregard their codes of ethics and morals, making the judicial system one of the most corrupt departments in any government of a given country.
An example of an incident involving ethics and morality in relation to criminal justice is one case about the conduct of police. In March 1990, Adolph Archie, a black American, was reported to have been involved in an incident that saw him shoot to death a white police officer during a shootout in town. The fact that Adolph had shot a police officer had not yet been proven. It was still a claim from the police. Adolph himself was injured during the incidence. Some good Samaritans tried to rush Adolph to the hospital, but were stopped by some officers who said that if they got to the hospital, Adolph could be lynched to death. They instead took him to the police station where the deceased officer worked.
At the station, Adolph fell unconscious, and was hence given some medical attention. It was clear that he had been beaten by the police officers, but no one was held responsible. At the hospital, Adolph’s medical records disappeared, include the X-rays. Adolph died while undergoing treatment.
The reports given stated that Adolph had died of an iodine injection given to him, to which he was allergic. However, pathologists made it clear that Adolph had been severely injured after a beating from the police. This was the main cause of the man’s death.
The media reported Adolph’s death as being a homicide by police intervention. Hours later, the Superintendent at the station cleared off all officers involved in the incident. No one was held responsible for the incident and the officers took to the police code of silence. Even those at the high levels of the police department did nothing to prosecute the officers who had treated Adolph brutally, instilling injuries in him that led to his death. They all remained silent, as is the culture of police. Years later, it emerged that Adolph’s family had been compensated by the city in an out-of-court arrangement, so as to stop them from pressing the case further.
The officers involved in this incident all acted out of the codes of ethics. It was also immoral of them to beat up a man who had not been proven guilty of the claimed killing of an officer. The police did not take time to investigate and find out what led to the shoot out (Cronkhite, 2007, p. 180). Instead, they immediately took to action at the mare mention that one of them had been killed during a shoot out.
Another instance of lack of ethics and morality in the above incidence is the fact that a white police officer had allegedly been shot dead by a black American. This aspect of racial discrimination was clearly brought out. It is against the police codes of ethics to deny a person justice because they are from a different race, have different skin color, or speak a different language (Cronkhite, 2007, p. 247).
It is unfortunate that even the top officials of the police department initiated and took part in executing the code of silence. As leaders, they were supposed to prosecute all officers who instead of taking Adolph to hospital, took him to a police station and beat him up. The top officials cleared off the officers involved of whatever charge they faced. It was against the code of ethics for the leaders not to prosecute the officers who treated Adolph unfairly, denying him a chance to defend himself as per the law.
In the whole incident, only the group of pathologists proved courageous enough to give a true report on what actually happened. The media just placed a headline in the papers and did not highlight the issue further. Adolph’s family was also silenced when they were given a monetary compensation. Years later, a humanitarian society was able to uncover all details about the incident. However, their efforts bore no fruits since they were dealing with the police leaders who were of higher authority than them.
There are various and a wide range of consequences that come about as a result of unethical behavior. These consequences may affect the individual, the society, and the whole system involved with criminal justice. To the individual, one may be lucky enough not to be punished by the law. However, the conscious of a person will never let them be. The person tends to be disturbed and has no peace. The lack of peace may lead to the deterioration of a person’s physical or mental health. The distraction affects the performance at the work place and how the person relates with other people, just because they chose to go against their morals and ethics of conduct.
Unethical behavior may lead to loss of highly skilled personnel. In the chance that an employee gets to witness unethical behavior, reports it and nothing gets done, they may chose to resign from their positions. This deprives the system of employees who may otherwise work towards the betterment of the system, forcing the HR function of the system to hire people who are not competent enough. A system laced with corruption leads to a lot of criminals going away unpunished. They keep doing their criminal activities since they know that they will always get way with it or are protected by the police. This leads to a lot of insecurity in the society.
In conclusion, everybody in the criminal justice system should undertake the study of the ethics. Knowledge in ethics ensures that the employees of the system perform their duties with integrity (Dyzenhaus, & Ripstein, 2001, p. 63). More to that, the officers are trained to have respect for human life; and will not do anything to go against the human rights. With the code of ethics, officers should feel obliged to treat everybody fairly, regardless of their culture, gender, or race. Everybody is equal in the face of law. Measures should be put in place to punish those who go against the code of ethics; otherwise, incidents of injustice and unfairness will be part of the society.
Close Daryl, & Meier Nicholas. (1994). Morality in Criminal Justice: An Introduction to Ethics
. Connecticut: Wadsworth Publishing
Cronkhite L. Clyde. (2007). Criminal justice administration: strategies for the 21st century.
Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning
Dyzenhaus David, & Ripstein Arthur. (2001). Law and morality: readings in legal philosophy.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press
Pollock M. Joycelyn. (2011)Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice. California: Cengage Learning
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