Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ethical Justice: A Map to the Minefield

Ethical Justice (Elsevier, 2013)
by Crowder & Turvey

The criminal justice system is a minefield of ethical dilemmas for those who work in it. Whether a police officer, a lawyer, a judge, or a forensic scientist, the CJ professional is going to get jammed up. Likely this will happen multiple times in their career - arising from unpredictable interactions with 
employers, co-workers, colleagues, the public, and the court.

Ethical Justice (2013, Elsevier Science; edited by Stan Crowder & Brent Turveywas developed from an idiom shared by the authors and contributors alike: ethics and ethical challenges are generally black and white - not gray. They are akin to the pregnant woman or the gunshot victim; one cannot be a little pregnant or a little shot. "If you hear a colleague talking about ethical gray areas, that's a big red a flag," says Brent Turvey, a co-editor, forensic expert, and adjunct professor of Sociology and Justice Studies at Oklahoma City University. "Usually this means they are concerned about something they are doing, or that a friend is doing - something they know is beyond the ethical pale. Professional conduct is either ethical or it is not." 

Turvey & Crowder, 2010
Unafraid to be the harbingers of unwelcome news, Turvey and Crowder set forth the parameters of key ethical issues across the five pillars of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, corrections, courts, forensic science, and academia. Ethical Justice demonstrates how each pillar is dependent upon its professional membership, and also upon those within the other pillars - with respect to both character and culture.

With contributions from case-working experts across the CJ spectrum, this text reveals hard-earned insights into issues that are often absent from textbooks born out of just theory and research. 
Part 1 examines ethic issues in academia, with chapters on ethics for CJ students, CJ educators, and ethics in CJ research. 
Part 2 examines ethical issues in law enforcement, with separate chapters on law enforcement administration and criminal investigations. 
Craig Cooley, formerly a staff attorney with the
Innocence Project in New York City, contributed
to the chapter: "Ethical Issues for Defense Attorneys".
Part 3 examines ethical issues in the forensic services, considering the separate roles of crime lab administration and evidence examination. 
Part 4 examines ethical issues in the courts, with chapters discussing the prosecution, the defense, and the judiciary. 
Part 5 examines ethical issues in corrections, separately considering corrections staff and treatment staff in a forensic setting. 
The text concludes with Part 6, which examines ethical issues in a broad professional sense with respect to professional organizations and whistleblowers.

The Problem
Unfortunately, many criminal justice programs do not adequately prepare their students to identify and navigate these professional land mines. The problem is generally one of the following: 

- The required ethics subject is taught by someone in the philosophy department, based on theory unnrelated to real life CJ issues;

- The required ethics subject is taught by a CJ instructor that has not worked in the CJ system, and therefore lacks insight into actual ethical dilemmas that students and professionals will eventually face once they get a job;

- There is no required ethics subject for CJ students.

"Unless you work in the criminal justice system, you might not take professional ethics very seriously, or you might misunderstand them entirely" explains contributor Shawn Mikulaya Professor of Psychology at Elgin Community College in Illinois. "You might even think that getting a job, not getting fired, and being promoted equate to maintaining good and ethical behavior. This is not the case. Bad acts and bad choices will eventually catch up with you."

Co-editor Stan Crowder agrees. He is a retired U.S. Army Military Police Colonel, and a CJ Professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. "None of the books we considered using for our ethics subject really had what we wanted," says Crowder. "They were all too theoretical, and didn't help students understand what they needed to do, right now, to protect themselves and their reputations. And they didn't offer an understanding of the real world dilemmas that are always coming at you. So we decided to write our own text, based on good research tempered by collective experience. We also used lots of case studies to show real world consequences."

Trustworthy Character & Disqualifiers

One major issue is the trustworthy character requirement. Students hoping for employment in the justice system must be able to achieve and maintain the trust of the court in order to be allowed the privilege of providing sworn reports and testimony. They must also understand that there is no branch of the criminal justice system where this requirement can be avoided, as every task performed is ultimately done in service of, and under the scrutiny of, an agent of the court. This remains true whether tasks relate to the investigation of a criminal charge, the examination of evidence, the administration of a legal proceeding, or the execution of a sentence.

One of the many case studies in the text: Officer Bert Lopez 
of the New Mexico State Police was fired in 2011 for 
conduct unbecoming an officer, including having sex 
in public, while on duty, and wearing his uniform.

As a result of this trustworthy character requirement, consideration of a professional life in criminal justice work begins at the student level. CJ employers carefully screen the background of all applicants and candidates for what may be referred to as employment disqualifiers. Disqualifiers are past and present activities or affiliations that evidence, or even appear to evidence, criminality, a propensity for dishonesty, or poor character. They include:

• Illegal drug use.
• Abuse of prescription medications.
• Alcohol abuse.
• Gambling addictions.
• Criminal arrests and convictions.
• Commission of undetected crimes.
• Extensive history of traffic violations.
• Gang affiliations.
• Affiliations with known criminals.
• Mental disorders.
• Pervasive financial problems.
• Falsification of any of the above.
• Failure to disclose any of the above.
• Failure of a pre-employment polygraph examination.

The importance of a particular disqualifier with respect to employability varies from agency to agency. That is to say, there is latitude afforded by some agencies – especially when the pool of viable candidates is limited by geography and pay scales. This is not necessarily a good thing: the more professional the government agency and the higher the security clearances of its operational employees, the less likely they are to overlook the disqualifiers mentioned. The opposite is also true.

Ethical Educators and Mentors
In Ethical Justice, the authors further take the position that criminal justice educators comprise an additionally and vital pillar of the criminal justice system. That is to say, there exists a responsibility on the part of criminal justice educators with respect to ethics. Not every student that enters and completes a given CJ program can necessarily survive the employment screening process that will eventually confront them. All students must be made aware of this reality. 

Students that can successfully hurdle the hiring process must also be professionally groomed, both socially and ethically, to understand the weight and consequences of the work that they will be required to do. To meet these responsibilities,
criminal justice educators must be knowledgeable and up front with their students regarding the importance of having, developing, and maintaining ethical character throughout the direction of their professional lives. They must know the direction of true North on their own professional ethical compass, and be capable of guiding their students towards it in both word and deed. 

While criminal justice educators have an obligation to understand and model professional ethical behavior, many are marginal at best. In fact, many educators confuse their personal moral values with what are meant to be professional
ethics while failing to understand the differences between them. As a consequence, they are often incapable of modeling professional ethical behavior.

This is certainly transmitted to their students. When this
happens, students can graduate having accumulated any number of employment disqualifiers without knowing it and without the real-world tools to navigate the complex ethical landscape that awaits them.


Ethical Justice: Applied Issues for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals is intended for use as a textbook at the college and university, by undergraduate students enrolled in a program related to any of the CJ professions. It is intended to guide them through the real-world issues that they will encounter in both the classroom and in the professional community. However, it can also serve as an important reference manual for the CJ professional that may work in a community that lacks ethical mentoring or leadership.