Justice, Crime, and Ethics
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Justice, Crime, and Ethics

Michael C. Braswell, Belinda R. McCarthy, Bernard J. McCarthy

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eBook - ePub

Justice, Crime, and Ethics

Michael C. Braswell, Belinda R. McCarthy, Bernard J. McCarthy

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Justice, Crime, and Ethics, a leading textbook in criminal justice programs, examines ethical dilemmas pertaining to the administration of criminal justice and professional activities in the field. This tenth edition continues to deliver a broad scope of topics, focusing on law enforcement, legal practice, sentencing, corrections, research, crime control policy, and philosophical issues. The book's robust coverage encompasses contentious issues such as capital punishment, prison corruption, and the use of deception in police interrogation.

The tenth edition includes new material in a number of chapters including "Learning Police Ethics, " "Using Ethical Dilemmas in Training Police, " "Prison Corruption, " "Crime and Justice Myths, " "Corporate Misconduct and Ethics, " "Ethics and Criminal Justice Research, " and "Ethical Issues in Confronting Terrorism." The use of "Case Studies, " "Ethical Dilemmas, " and "Policy and Ethics" boxes continues throughout the textbook. A new feature for this edition is the inclusion of "International Perspective" boxes in a number of relevant chapters.

Students of criminal justice, as well as instructors and professionals in the field, continue to rely on this thorough, dependable resource on ethical decision making in the criminal justice system.

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Part I


Vision brings a new appreciation of what there is. It makes a person see things differently rather than see different things.
Herbert Guenther
Our personal and social values shape and color the way we perceive the world in which we live. While we are concerned with achieving personal goals and ambitions, we also come to realize at a rather early age that the needs and desires of others are also forces to be reckoned with. The question for us then becomes one of reconciling the pursuit of our individual dreams within the context of the larger community. Maintaining our individual integrity, our personal sense of right and wrong, and, at the same time, conforming to what is best for the majority of persons in our society can often become a perplexing challenge. Yet we are all connected to each other in one way or another—parents and children, inmates with correctional staff. We are even connected to our physical environment, as evidenced in the quality of air we breathe and water we drink. As potential criminal justice practitioners, our professional choices and policies will emanate from our personal beliefs and values—from our personal philosophies. How much do we care about trying to honestly and effectively address the pressing justice issues of the day? Are we truly mindful of the ways we are connected to our problems? Do we have a long-term and short-term sense of what the costs of our proposed solutions will be?
Cultivating a greater understanding of our own philosophical perspectives can provide us with a foundation for making more informed decisions about the diverse social issues we face and the way our system of justice responds to such issues.

Chapter 1


Michael C. Braswell
As you approach the study of ethics, crime, and justice, it is important that you view your study as a search, journey, or exploration. This search in many ways will yield more questions than answers. It is a creative endeavor in which a number of your beliefs and assumptions will be challenged. Questions such as “Can moral or ethical behavior be illegal and legal actions be immoral?” and “Can we have a more equitable criminal justice system without addressing social problems such as poverty and discrimination?” will test the limits of your personal values and beliefs (Braswell & LaFollette, 1988). This study will also encompass a variety of disciplines that contribute to criminal justice, including law, economics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology. For the purposes of our exploration, we will use the terms ethical and moral interchangeably.
What is ethics? In a general sense, ethics is the study of right and wrong, good and evil. Who decides what is right and wrong? What one person may believe is right, another person may feel is wrong. Our beliefs and values regarding right and wrong and good and evil are shaped by our parents and friends, by the communities we are a part of, and by our own perceptions. Codes of conduct are also influenced by the law and our religious beliefs. Professional organizations involving such areas as law, medicine, and criminal justice also offer professional codes of ethics as a benchmark for people who fulfill those professional roles. This study involves all aspects of who we are—our minds, hearts, relationships with each other, and the intentions and motives for our actions regarding both our inner and outer environment. We are inclined to believe that ethical persons act in good or right ways, whereas unethical people commit evil acts and other forms of wrongdoing. Then again, it is not only a matter of a person acting “unethically”; also at issue are people who could choose to do good but instead do nothing, allowing others to do evil. So it is not simply a matter of my committing an evil or wrongful act, it is also a matter of my being an indirect accomplice to evil by silently standing by, letting evil occur when I could stand for what is right. As a result, unethical acts can occur by the commission of wrongdoing or by omission—by allowing wrongdoing to occur. Thomas Merton (as quoted in Woods, 1966), in examining a fundamental problem of omission, wrote that “moral paralysis leaves us immobile, inert, passive, tongue-tied, ready and even willing to succumb.”
The study of justice and ethics, of the good and evil we do to each other, also involves a sense of community. We often hear that problems of crime and violence are the result of a breakdown in family and community values. What does our community consist of? Our community includes our family, our neighbors—even the land on which we grow food to eat and the air we breathe. Is it important that we act in ethical ways regarding our physical environment as well as with regard to people with whom we come in contact? Within our community of interdependent parts exist three contexts, or perspectives, that can help us approach a better understanding of justice, crime, and ethics.


A way of understanding the idea of justice in human experience is to think of it as a process that moves within three contexts or concentric circles (see Figure 1.1).
The first context or innermost circle is the personal, which represents our individual sense of justice. This context examines right and wrong, good and evil—life experienced and lived, for better or worse, from the inside out. My life experiences come to form a set of perceptions, some easily changed and others being very resistant to change, that form my personal sense of justice—my way of looking out into the world as a safe or dangerous place, with hope or with despair.
The second circle represents the social context of justice. This circle includes all that is the world without—the physical environment I live in, whether rural, urban, or suburban, and the people with whom I interact through choice or necessity. I may live in a relatively just or unjust community. I may live as an oppressed member of my community, or I may act as the oppressor. During our lifetimes, perhaps on one occasion or another, and in one way or another, we will taste the experience of both.
People do not commit crimes in isolation. Crimes also require circumstances and victims. Crimes are related to social circumstances and conditions as well as being subject to the law and criminal justice system. Why did the abused wife kill her husband? In the broader social context, we might look at the abuse she suffered before she made her husband a victim of a homicide. What was her relationship to her parents and other family members? What about her neighbors? Did she have access to adequate social and support services? Could something have been done to prevent her own victimization and thus her subsequent crime?
Figure 1.1 Three contexts for understanding justice, crime, and ethics.
The social context of ethics suggests that we cannot be concerned with criminals only after they have committed crimes but must also better understand the conditions and environments that encourage people to become criminals, whether such offenders physically rape their victims or economically violate them through such means as stock market fraud. We also need to remember that offenders who are incarcerated in prisons typically return to the communities from where they came, whether they become rehabilitated or more criminalized.
The social context is not concerned merely with how we judge others as being good or evil but also how we judge ourselves in relationship to others. Buechner (1973) writes,
We are judged by the face that looks back at us from the bathroom mirror. We are judged by the faces of the people we love and by the faces and lives of our children and by our dreams. Each day finds us at the junction of many roads, and we are judged as much by the roads we have not taken as by the roads we have.
The third context we can use in our efforts to better understand justice, crime, and ethics is perhaps the most specific one; it centers on the criminal justice process. Too often, the criminal justice process is the only context or perspective we consider. It is important that we include both the personal and social contexts of ethics in exploring the criminal justice process. Due process, police corruption, and punishment are examples of important issues that require us to consider personal beliefs, social factors, and criminal justice consequences simultaneously. For example, I explore any new law being proposed regarding the punishment of offenders in terms of my personal beliefs. How does this proposed law square with my own value system? How do I feel about it? The proposed law should also be examined on the basis of how it will affect the social community. Is it just and fair to all parts and groups within the community? Will it contribute to the community’s sense of safety and security, or is it perhaps more of a public relations or election year gimmick? Can the criminal justice process and system effectively implement the law? Are there adequate resources to finance and manage the changes that will occur in the system as a result of the proposed law?
The criminal justice context also sets legal limits for what we can do to each other. Those of us who inflict harm on others may experience legal consequences ranging from fines to imprisonment or even having to forfeit our lives. Sometimes what is legal is also what is right or good, but that is not the primary function of criminal justice. We need to remember that our justice system, due to existing laws and community attitudes, may also support tyrants or various forms of injustice and corruption on occasion, leading to suffering and oppression in our communities. Our personal and communal sense of morality (what is right and wrong) may often stand outside the limits of the law. In fact, some politicians often seem to confuse what is moral with what is legal. For example, although gambling may be illegal, a given community may consider it desirable and ignore the law, even demonstrating a sense of collective pride in such activities. In addition, during one period of our history, it was considered illegal for women or minorities to vote or to help people who were enslaved escape to freedom. In such cases, what was legal was immoral and what was moral was illegal. Some of us did what was right and good at great peril and personal cost during such times, even though we broke the law. Others of us remained responsible, law-abiding citizens and, by omitting to do the good we could have done, allowed others to experience unimaginable suffering and injustice.
It is important to note that the circles are more like membranes than concrete lines of demarcation. Like ocean tides, they bend and flow with each other, remaining distinct but always connected and interacting. Finally, the area beyond the third context represents the unknown. From our personal beliefs and values to our social relations and interaction within and outside the rule of law—all are subject to the effects of the unknown. We may call it coincidence, luck, fate, destiny, or the will of God. Whatever we call it, the outcome of our individual lives as well as the fate of our larger community includes an air of mystery, of the unexpected—sometimes welcomed and other times feared. What we can count on is that if we act as ethical people of integrity, we will increase the odds that we will work and live in responsible and caring communities where the chance for justice will be greater for all who live there.
In addition to examining our study of ethics from a personal, social, and criminal justice context, it is also useful to identify several specific goals as we begin to explore issues regarding justice, crime, and ethics.


The initial goal for exploring ethics is to become more aware and open to moral and ethical issues. As we try to become more aware of ethical issues, we will discover a number of contradictions in our moral beliefs and values. We will find that there is often a difference between appearances and reality, that things are often not what they seem. What we are taught as children may be challenged by our adult experiences. As a result, some choices seem clearly to be right or wrong, whereas other events seem more ambiguous and less certain.
A part of our becoming more open includes our learning to be more aware of the full range and nature of moral and ethical issues—from telling a small lie to committing perjury, from cheating on one’s income taxes to engaging in major bank fraud. This broad range of moral issues reminds us that where justice is concerned, personal values, social consequences, and criminal justi...