Ethical Issues in the Criminal Justice System
Ethical problems in police work and the criminal justice system are common issues of debate today. Singer (1995) expressed his idea of living ethically as thinking about anything beyond a person’s own selfish interests. Ethics can be defined as moral philosophy, a manual that defines how people ought to treat each other. It involves crucial judgments between good and bad choices that one may make in everyday living showing qualities or moral judgments. Ethics allows one to make moral choices when an uncertain situation involving morality occurs. In this light, ethical issues in the criminal justice system and programs put up for that effect need constant study and scrutiny, so as to find out if all is morally right and what needs to be changed.
In the everyday life processes moral regulations are highly sought-after, not for the reason that they convey utter truth, but also since they are in general consistent guides for usual circumstances. This paper focuses on applied and also normative ethics, predominantly the examination and scrutiny of ethical dilemmas and situations involving conflicts that may come up within the criminal justice system. Knowledge of ethical issues in criminal justice, particularly the police force, will enable an individual to analyze and question assumptions that are never dealt with in areas of work like the judiciary and law enforcement. The paper will conduct a brief review of all relevant facts in an effort to identify the major ethical issues and underlying values of every opposing side. Questioning the criminal justice system so as to establish connections within issues like roles of the law enforcement agencies, relationship between justice and crime, punishment limits, role and place of punishments, functions of the prisons and the authority of the state.
Four Ethical Issues: Discretion, Duty, Honesty and Loyalty
Among the most common ethical issues are the four categories namely: discretion, duty, honesty, and loyalty. They are the most popular ethical dilemmas. Dilemmas are situations where a public officer has no clear judgment of the right course of action to pursue. It also means that the chosen action, which the officer deems appropriate, is difficult to achieve or implement, and the deemed wrong course of action is quite luring and tempting. Social justice and security are delicate issues that require a lot of attention and care while handling them. They encompass the welfare of the population while ensuring survival and freedom through provision of rights and security for all. A conflict may appear when people live together in a society. The well being or deterioration of a particular community determines how to handle these conflicts. Peacekeeping is required in all areas especially where criminality level is high. A good system of peace maintenance is required in order to attain maximum results. Therefore peacekeeping goes hand in hand with good leadership that is quite essential to the value of human life to get rid of fear, crime and violence. In order to achieve this, the three themes of peacemaking must be applied in the ethical approaches of criminality and justice. They are: care, connectedness and mindfulness in all approaches. Connectedness one to correct violence instead of treating violence with violence like is the case in prisons and the justice departments today. Caring is the acknowledgement of a ruptured section that requires healing thus allowing reconciliation and peacekeeping. Mindfulness is what allows an individual to experience a more moving sense of awareness to situations that cause one to see broadly and move from self-centeredness to a large sense of passion to others.
The ethical issues of criminal justice encompass a lot of fields and concerns in the implementation of justice. Such issues include racial profiling, use of plea-bargaining for defendants charged with felonies, waiver of very young offenders to adult court and making them subject to adult processing and punishment, use of rehabilitation as the dominant model for corrections, use of restorative justice programs and use of “chain gangs,” “tent city,” and other novel punishments and how they impact prisoner rights among other issues. Other ethical system issues, for example, Utilitarianism and deontology, trigger much debate and study since these systems affect lives of various groups of people, for instance, victims, accused, culprits and the law enforcers. Utilitarianism is an ethical system that believes that the best ethical measure to take is to capitalize on the happiness in a society. The theory suggests that actions have outcomes that can be calculated and ethical options have consequences which bring about happiness to the majority in a society. It is a consequentiality outlook that can predict outcome since it judges actions according to their outcomes (Staveren, 2007). On the other hand, deontology is the alternative system of ethics. While utilitarianism concentrates on actions and outcomes, deontology provides that the outcomes, means or actions themselves should be strictly ethical. The theory holds that some actions are morally incorrect regardless of their end product. It proposes ethical norms and truths that are globally and universally accepted. It literally advocates the theory that the means must justify the end. Our system of criminal justice is a best example of Utilitarianism (Staveren, 2007). The following sections will discuss the above mentioned issues in deep insight in a bid to set forth recommendations for the continued use, modification, or discontinuation of these issues through the various governmental programs and policy and more so within the police force.
Racial profiling has become a matter of concern throughout the country. A number of states and cities have made up committees to research racial profiling, or studies on how ethnicity and race may contribute to stops by the law enforcers in their jurisdictions. Several other states have made efforts to start racial profiling research of all traffic stops and separate studies by the police. Considering the natural methodological setbacks to most of the best designed racial profiling studies, it is less probable that any particular study will please the competing desires and expectations of all components of the study. This specifically applies in the hard task of defining an appropriate basis measure for comparing the stop data. Due to this reason and other underlying factors, it is advisable that from the onset of any racial profiling researches for all concerned parties to start collaborative planning for improvements within the justice system so as to address the basic goal of racial equity within the criminal justice programs and system. Although it is good to mention the flaws, it is quite unnecessary to make a conclusion that the whole system is dysfunctional and goes ahead to lay blame before proceeding to enhance the system in question. The principal underlying justification for such an action may show more consistency with a prior assumption that no program is utterly perfect and there exists a chance for improvement. Seemingly, a society where racial issues are neutral and justice is fair to all is hard to find. However this is a shared aim within societies and communicates all over the country. Allowing a racial profiling research study is a reaffirmation of a community’s effort to preserve values. This study allows a community to be able to back track and realize where a certain mistake is and provide solutions on how to rectify it. In order to attain equal justice, efforts to recruit minority individuals into positions bearing lots of responsibilities in the justice system should be redoubled. A regular collaboration of the groups merged for the purpose of carrying out racial profiling research studies could certainly come up with other strategies or develop methodologies for implementation of the strategies with a primary aim of securing race neutrality in the criminal justice systems.
Plea Bargaining in the Judicial Systems
Another ethical issue causing controversy in the criminal justice system is the issue of plea bargaining in the judicial systems. According to Bunnell and Brown (2006), a plea bargain is a defining characteristic of the criminal justice today. Here, a defendant faces a lesser sentence if he/she agrees to plead guilty and avoid trial. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005) records that, in 2003 alone, about 76000 cases were disposed off in federal district courts by plea or trial. A good number of the above (approximately 95%) cases were disposed off through guilty plea. Studies show that about 95% of all cases in both state and federal courts are disposed through guilty pleas as the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005) records reveal. In an effort to explain this unfair occurrence, legal professionals argue that prosecutors have no time to pursue all indictments since there are thousands of cases daily. The court system is better off without such a program since all cases would be dealt with impartially. Under this system, a large number of innocent defendants are coerced into pleading guilty due to fear and ignorance. Such a system should only be applicable where the prosecution team has very strong and sufficient evidence beyond reasonable doubt in order to reduce the number of innocent defendants suffering under the system.
In addition to the above, chronic and habitual offenders with violent records would less likely receive lenient verdicts and thus softer the punishments. As a result, without the option of plea bargaining the number of cases that goes to trial everyday would remain constant or would reduce significantly. Therefore, the government needs to come up with an alternative program to replace this system that intimidates innocent first time offenders or other defendants who are not fully conversant with the law and end up pleading guilty in fear of a heavier punishment. Such a program, in one way or the other, serves to satisfy the prosecutors’ ego and also helps violent criminals to evade heavy punishments.
Prosecution of Juveniles in Adult Courts
In addition to the above ethical issues, prosecution of juveniles in adult courts is another issue in our criminal justice program that requires some urgent amendments or replacements. Since time immemorial, the juvenile courts have had a clear distinction from the adult courts. However, this seems to have changed over the years as kids are becoming more and more violent as crime rates within the juvenile age group and in general shoot up. The new generation of kids seems to have a higher affinity to crime than an ordinary kid would. The fear of this out of control generation has compelled the system to accommodate their cases in adult courts. This system has erroneously and mistakenly undermined the traditional practice of treating the young offender different from the adult criminal. The level of crime the juveniles commit makes them less responsible due to their age and leaves them more open to rehabilitation. Over the last couple of years, there has been a change in focus from correction to punishment and specifically to the relocation of the abnormally large number of youthful offenders from the juvenile courts to the adult criminal courts. The new policies are by all means doing harm to the juveniles or youthful offenders than it is expected. These policies are a rapid reevaluation of traditional views that children require assistance to make their lives better and be part of a system that concentrate on changing in a rehabilitating manner rather than punishment. A thorough study on the changes in the juvenile justice and criminal system coupled with deep analysis on the increase in prosecution of juveniles in criminal adult courts reveals that the system has failed and needs to review the policies. This system has no growth or the intended correctional and rehabilitation value to the youthful offenders but rather causes more harm without increasing public safety. Noticeably, the countrywide shift to the new punitive program of trying youthful offenders in criminal courts is growing despite the increase in juvenile crime. This should send a signal that all is not well in the system and changes have to be done. More people are convinced now that the criminal/adult courts are quite inappropriate for the juveniles and it’s about time for the old system to be reinstalled. Moreover, imposition of criminal punishments and treatment in a bid to correct young offenders, only serves to increase the probability that later on they would commit criminal offenses. The so called tough-on-crime policy undermines the future of these juveniles and the integrity of the state through continued support programs that are unethical.
Rehabilitation as the Primary Mode
Another matter raising concerns in the criminal justice system is the use of rehabilitation as the primary mode of correction in our correctional facilities. A famous subject matter that has for a long time remained in the record of the American corrections department is that all possible efforts should be put to assist in reforming offenders. Specifically, at the start of the 20th century, the idea of rehabilitation in place of punishment was hurriedly and enthusiastically advocated and immediate renovations and policy changes (for example parole, separate juvenile and criminal adult justice systems, probation, employment of indeterminate sentencing etcetera) began in the correctional programs throughout the country. Offender treatment and rehabilitation became the dominant correctional philosophy. However, this period was further followed by a period of setbacks as it failed to achieve its goal. The American community began criticizing the running of the justice program which allegedly treated guilty offenders leniently. They were of the opinion that the system was not working. However, it is immoral and ethically wrong for a criminal justice program to punish offenders. Research studies show that punishing offenders only creates a harder shell in them instead of serving to correct their mistakes. This is the reason why a man who has been in prison has a higher probability of committing a crime than one who has not been. The rehabilitation system is a better idea and only needs a few adjustments to attain the primary mandate of correcting offenders and molding them into better citizens. It is worth keeping in mind that a person’s future is not entirely determined, but rather depends on personal choices. Even though some people are of the opinion that rehabilitation system should be done away with, the suggestion does not give a solution since the alternative is a worse choice with harsher implications. Changing human behavior is an almost impossible task but with the correctional techniques of rehabilitation rather than punishment, more lives are changed. Therefore, the rehabilitation policy is wiser and with a few adjustments, better results might be achieved.
Solution to Criminal Justice
Finally, to bring a solution to a world full of problems is the new policy on restorative justice programs. The system refers to a program of resolving criminal behavior and crime by concentrating on evening out the harm suffered by the victim by holding the offender accountable for his/her actions while involving the society during the entire process of resolving the issue at hand. Participation of the above mentioned parties (the victim, the offender, the law enforcement agencies, the justice system and the community) is vital as it becomes part of the healing process that further emphasizes reconciliation, relationship building, strengthening, and growth of an agreement based on desired results between the parties involved. Restorative justice programs may be applied to help minimize the weigh down on the criminal justice system. It would effectively divert cases out of the criminal justice system and provide the system with quite a variety of beneficial sanctions. The execution of restorative justice programs as a complementary system to the burdened criminal justice structure came along with the growth of safeguards for accomplices and attempts to increase their restorative and crime prevention results. The system of restorative justice is a noble approach to solution making that in its range of forms include the offender, the victim, justice agencies and law enforcement, their social circles and the society as a whole. Restorative justice programs are founded on the basis that all criminal behaviors do not only break the rules and regulations set by the country, but also harm a victim and the society at large. An attempt to solve the outcomes of criminal activities should then include the injured party (victim) and the offender as well. It should also provide assistance and maximum support to both parties. Restorative justice programs and processes may be incorporated into various cultural and social situations within different settings and occurrences. Through such programs, the involved parties that are: the offender, the victim, and the society regain authority and control over the whole process. The restorative justice program can also be very influential in the transformation of the relationships between the society and the criminal justice system if well applied. Restorative justice programs have the ability to tackle and repair more effectively the harm resulting from criminal behavior which the normal criminal justice system would handle poorly. All together, restorative justice programs and processes can give a more powerful voice to the crime victims while the criminal offenders acquire the chance to admit responsibility for their behaviors and obtain the support they need of in order to deal with their specific needs. In addition, the society gets a more effective tactic to not only act in response to crime, but also develop and reinforce their difference avoidance and resolution ability.
In conclusion, the criminal justice system is in chaos. However, all is not lost and there is hope that with a few amendments and inclusions of some basic programs, this system will be in control again. Knowledge of ethical issues in criminal justice, for instance the police force, will enable an individual to analyze and question assumptions that are never dealt with in areas of work like the judiciary and law enforcement. Questioning the criminal justice system so as to establish connections within issues like roles of the law enforcement agencies, relationship between justice and crime, punishment limits, role and place of punishments, functions of the prisons and the authority of the state. Some ethical issues within the criminal justice system are chronic and simply cannot be ignored. They include racial profiling, use of plea bargaining for defendants charged with felonies, waiver of very young offenders to adult court and making them subject to adult processing and punishment, use of rehabilitation as the dominant model for corrections, use of restorative justice programs and “chain gangs,” “tent city,” and other novel punishments and how they impact prisoner rights among other issues. Judicial reforms must be carried out to ensure better relations with the public and to restore the confidence that seems to have been lost. If proper measure and the recommendations advised in this paper are to be adhered to, then the society would be a better place to live in.
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