Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice

By Alexis Writing ; Updated June 15, 2017
Justice concept

Ethical issues in criminal justice have been addressed on both a philosophical and historical level. Ethical issues have existed in relation to government, policing and international politics for centuries. The standard code of ethics that law enforcement personnel and public servants are asked to uphold can often be translated subjectively by individuals, resulting in the possibility of ethically questionable conduct. Ethical issues regarding brutality, corruption and off-duty behavior have become an increasing challenge in criminal justice.

Off-Duty Behavior

Law enforcement personnel are subject to a battery of examinations to prove they have the will and mental capacity to perform the functions of a public servant or law enforcement provider. Several codes have been established for acceptable conduct, and those citizens who dedicate their lives to these occupations are expected to operate under the letter of the law without expressing bias or personal views during work hours and in their personal lives. On off hours, politicians, government officials and officers are human beings. However, under the code of ethics, they should be setting an example for the common citizen. Unfortunately, those who should be regulating law can often get away with bending or breaking laws themselves. Unethical activities by these individuals are an issue because the person in question is often treated with a lighter punishment or law enforcement turns a blind eye because of association with a policing or governing organization.

Police Brutality

Police interactions often can be misconstrued, or sometimes turned around against an officer. Although criminals are "innocent until proven guilty" in a court of law, questionable behavior and complaints against officers can be filed by even the most violent of criminals. Often, the officer may restrain a potentially dangerous citizen, and be accused of excessive force. Overall, this results in not only a mark against the institution of law enforcement and the officer specifically, but also in a lack of action in future enforcements. The officers may not want to put themselves at risk for further complaints.


Corruption in criminal justice is a common theme in the media. Public servants, law enforcement and military personnel may be put into positions where they are offered large payoffs to ignore illegal conduct.

About the Author

Alexis Writing has many years of freelance writing experience. She has written for a variety of online destinations, including She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Rochester.