A code of ethics can be thought of as a moral compass that helps one decide how to act in critical moments. Ethics is particularly important for those who are in a position of power and prominence, as these individuals have the greatest influence on society. Members of the criminal justice system make extremely critical decisions every day and their choices have a profound effect on our lives. It is therefore imperative that these men and women do what is right and are free of biases.
Miscarriage of Justice Can Destroy Lives
It is important for professionals in the criminal justice filed to study ethics, because mistakes by these professionals can be extremely costly. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, in its code of ethics, explains as follows: "Members of the Academy are especially careful to avoid incompetent, unethical or unscrupulous use of criminal justice knowledge. They recognize the great potential for harm that is associated with the study of criminal justice, and they do not knowingly place the well-being of themselves or other people in jeopardy in their professional work." In simpler terms, a biased judgment by your boss can cost you your job. A similar misjudgment by a police officer, on the other hand, can mean losing your freedom for a crime you ave not committed.
Unethical Acts Weaken Society
In addition to grave consequences for the individuals suffering direct harm, unethical acts by criminal justice professionals also harm the social fabric. If, for instance residents of a neighborhood are mistreated by law enforcement and are therefore afraid to go to the police station to report a crime, far fewer criminals will be caught. These sorts of problems will weaken society's belief in the justice system and, not only lead to increase in lawlessness but can also result in some individuals taking the law into their own hands.
Ethical Issues are Common in Criminal Justice
Not only are the consequences of unethical acts by criminal justice professionals quite serious, but there are also many possibilities for conflicts to arise in the area of criminal justice, which can lead to unethical decisions and behaviors.
In the book "Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice," Cyndi Banks mentions numerous ethical issues including: "ethical problems in the use of authority," "ethical problems in information sharing," "ethical issues dealing with human right issues" and "ethical issues in the media reporting of crime."
As seen from some typical ethical issues, due to the position of power and prominence of criminal justice professionals and because of the immense importance of their decisions, problems can arise easily. When such problems arise, their consequences are often grave.
Problems can Arise Despite Good Intentions
It is important to note that conflicts and serious issues in criminal justice can arise despite noble and respectable intentions by criminal justice professionals.
"Ethical problems in information sharing," for instance, can simply result from an effort by law enforcement officials to prevent terror attacks. In its effort to do so, police may scan the emails of a few potential terrorists together with those of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens. The question then becomes whether privacy or security is a more critical concern under a specific set of circumstances and such questions are often impossible to answer in the absence of a code of ethics
"Ethical issues dealing with human right issues" and "ethical issues in the media reporting of crime" are, similarly, difficult problems to untangle and require a code of principles one can refer to, as they are often impossible to resolve by merely acting responsibly.
Justice Is a Key Pillar of Society
In his letter, dated September 28, 1789, George Washington wrote to Attorney General Edmund Randolph: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government."
Without a working justice system, society simply comes unglued as has been demonstrated many times in history. And for the justice system to work properly, especially the criminal justice system, a strong and clear code of ethics is critical. Due to their power and prestige and because of the nature of problems they must deal with, the members of the criminal justice system often face serious conflicts and need a guiding light, which is precisely what a code of ethics provides.