Ethics involves individuals making judgements on what is right or wrong. Various societies have a criminal justice system to ensure that people adhere to certain laws and regulations. It is fair to say that the criminal justice system is a cardinal pillar in the adherence to ethics by members of any society. The application of ethics is vital when people have to make decisions involving force, discretion and due process. Professionals in the criminal justice system can be easily tempted to abuse their power and act unethically. Engagement in unethical behavior by criminal justice professionals, leads to several problems bearing on moral decadence and the socio-economic welfare of citizens.
Problems associated with unethical behavior by criminal justice professionals
Unethical behavior by criminal justice professionals dilutes the trust people have in the criminal justice systems, (Hinkle & Weisburd, 2008). When people lose trust in their criminal justice system they become disillusioned and seek justice through unconventional means such as mob justice and other forms of retaliatory attacks on their offenders (Singer, 1995). This could lead to punishments and even loss of lives of innocent persons. The scenario where people seek justice through unconventional means is bound to plunge any society into anarchy.
Unethical behavior among criminal justice professionals promotes social evils. Hinkle and Weisburd, (2008) assert that when for instance judges accept bribes and fail to enforce laws against drug trade, the culprits become even more empowered to expand their activities. In a society where people murder, rape, rob and eventually get away with the crimes due to unethical behavior among justice professionals, social evils can only increase.
Unethical behavior among criminal justice professionals oppresses the citizens and lowers the quality of life especially for low-income citizens. According to Singer (1995), when judges for instance ask for bribes to determine cases, in favor of one of the parties, it is the poor who get oppressed and their lives worsened. As such, unethical behavior among criminal justice professions widens the gap between the poor and the rich and increases inequitable distribution of resources. This fuels animosity between the different social classes in the society and causes problems in co-existence and harmony in the society (Henderson & Simon, 1994). These developments increase the socio-economic challenges on the government with the potential to retard any meaningful growth.
Unethical behavior by criminal justice professionals retards the progress made towards more concrete human rights. In an era where countries are phasing out capital punishment, the passing of a controversial death penalty is always seen as a big blow to attainment of enhanced human rights. Moreover, unethical handling of juvenile cases sets a bad precedence in societies and compounds problems for fledgling criminal justice systems.
Unethical behavior by criminal justice practitioners
A classic case of unethical behavior by criminal justice practitioners was unearthed in December 2001. On December 28, 2001 after 14 years in incarceration as death row inmates, Michael Ray Graham and Albert Ronnie Burrell were set free from the Louisiana State Penitentiary (New York Times, 2001). The state had dismissed their charges after evidence against them failed to link them to the crimes for which they had been incarcerated. As compensation, Graham received $10 to cover for his transport expenses out of Angola. On the other hand, Mr. Burrell who was mentally ill and illiterate, missed execution by only 17 days!
The two men had been found guilty on the evidence from a jailhouse snitch who was mentally ill and a well known habitual liar. He had lied that the two men had confessed to murders while in jail. The incarceration of Graham and Burrell resulted from prosecutorial misconduct since no physical evidence linked any of the men to the murders (New York Times, 2001). The judgement passed was based purely on the evidence from the jailhouse snitch. This pointed out to gross unethical behavior on the prosecutorial team, the judge and the lawyers of the accused.
The acquittals of graham and Burrell brought to 8 the number of wrongfully imprisoned death row inmates in a period of 2 years in Louisiana. In total 92 inmates on death row in the State of Louisiana have been acquitted since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1973 (New York Times, 2001). During the acquittal of the two men, lawyers pointed out to the need for prosecutorial teams to uphold the criminal justice code of ethics. The code requires prosecutorial teams to thoroughly investigate witnesses and evidence tabled in any court of law.
The role and importance of review boards
Review boards basically deal with the rule making, regulation and enforcement of the rules, regulations and the codes of ethics in any particular field. In the criminal justice system several boards both independent and under the US department of justice oversee the adherence to ethics by criminal justice professionals for the benefit of the public (Singer, 1995). Review boards deal with specific components of the criminal justice system such as the police force, lawyers’ societies, the judicial bench, the Attorney General, the prisons among others. The sensitivity of justice in society has compelled review boards to fulfill several roles to ensure criminal justice professionals uphold personal and professional ethics.
The most critical role for review boards is to act as a watchdog on behalf of the public to ensure criminal justice systems deliver uncompromised justice (Henderson & Simon, 1994). The bodies review controversial cases where they suspect that justice was not served and recommend for appeals on the cases to the courts. In case the review body is that of a lawyer’s society or the attorney General’s office it reviews malpractices and ethical behaviors of the holders of those offices. When the review bodies find the parties guilty of unethical or criminal behavior they recommend appropriate punitive measures against the implicated professionals.
The review bodies also help in the formulation and review on the codes of ethics to be adhered to by all the criminal justice professionals (Henderson & Simon, 1994). They fulfill this mandate by submitting their reviews on cases forwards to them together with their recommendations to the Department of Justice and other interested bodies.
In an entire criminal justice system facing ethical litigations, the review bodies can appropriately apportion the blame to the very component of the system with the flaws. When the lawyers, the judges, the prison systems are investigated independently, the review bodies can rightly tell which component was responsible for unethical behaviors. This allows the components to work together harmoniously and deliver justice devoid of unethical behaviors.
The review bodies also educate the public on their rights. In the course of reviewing a case against a professional, the review bodies make recommendations that educate the public. In other words the review of a particular case in the public limelight leaves the people more aware of their rights (Singer, 1995). The public can also be in a better position to avoid criminal justice professionals who whose adherence to ethics has been questioned.
Henderson, J. & Simon, D. (1994) Crimes of the Criminal Justice System. Anderson Publishing Co. 2035 Reading Road. Cincinnati, OH 45202
Hinkle, J. & Weisburd, D. (2008) The irony of broken windows policing: A micro-place study of the relationship between disorder, focused police crackdowns and fear of crime. Journal of Criminal Justice. Volume 36, Issue 6, November 2008, Pages 503-512. Retrieved, March 23 2012: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-criminal-justice/most-cited-articles/
New York Times (2001) “92nd death row inmate freed since ’73: Louisiana.”
Retrieved, March 23 2012: http://truthinjustice.org/no92.htm
Singer, P. (1995). How Are We to Live? Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.