Professional codes of conduct minimize value conflicts. The standards articulated in such documents are meant for all members of a profession to follow. John Kultgen noted that “every code must be treated as a hypothesis to be tested and adapted while following it.” Such an endeavor, thus, is a work in progress and depicts a specific profession’s distinctive necessities. As the courts, correctional entities, and professionalism in policing continue to evolve, the adherents of such codes articulate standards that stem from accepted ethical and moral principles, which in turn encourage the formulation of a code of ethics appropriate for the criminal justice roles being carried out.
The reach of a code typically depends on the level of the organization. It can be local, city, county, state, or federal (U.S.) level. The standard of professionalism characteristically reflects a benchmark set by an organization. Codes of conduct, however noble in intention, do not by themselves promote professionalism, and a code’s effectiveness depends on the commitment of its adherents. A professional society is a voluntary, cooperative organization, and those who must conform to its rules also benefit from the conformity of others; each, Stuart Altmann writes, has a stake in maintaining general compliance. Lambda Alpha Epsilon (LAE), for example, serves the learners involved with the American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA). Organizations such as the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) “serves as a voice of state, tribal, and local governments and criminal justice practitioners on issues of crime control and public safety.” The Southern Criminal Justice Association (SCJA) is a professional organization affiliated with the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS).
The reach and the extent of any school association, for example, the Clayton State Justice Society (CSJS), may be limited to the college campus it serves, which nevertheless might be affiliated, with the American Correctional Association (ACA). Organizations such as the Criminal Justice Association of Georgia (CJAG) may serve the stakeholders of a state, and even within a state, groups like the Asian American Peace Officers of Georgia (AAPOG) may serve a particular group’s interest.
Though the International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACTP), the American Bar Association (ABA), or ACA, for example, have organization-specific goals and missions, there remains a need for distinctive but overarching ethical principles. The principles enshrined in a criminal justice system code of conduct ought to be mutually beneficial, develop reciprocally productive and pleasant relationships, and promote social justice. The ACA Code of Conduct provides a model for corrections organizations:
- Members shall respect and protect the civil and legal rights of all individuals.
- Members shall treat every professional situation with concern for the welfare of the individuals involved and with no intent to personal gain.
- Members shall maintain relationships with colleagues to promote mutual respect within the profession and improve the quality of service.
- Members shall make public criticism of their colleagues or their agencies only when warranted, verifiable, and constructive.
- Members shall respect the importance of all disciplines within the criminal justice system and work to improve cooperation with each segment.
- Members shall honor the public’s right to information and share information with the public to the extent permitted by law subject to individuals’ right to privacy.
- Members shall respect and protect the right of the public to be safeguarded from criminal activity.
- Members shall refrain from using their positions to secure personal privileges or advantages.
- Members shall refrain from allowing personal interest to impair objectivity in the performance of duty while acting in an official capacity.
- Members shall refrain from entering into any formal or informal activity or agreement which presents a conflict of interest or is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of duties.
- Members shall refrain from accepting any gifts, services, or favors that is or appears to be improper or implies an obligation inconsistent with the free and objective exercise of professional duties.
- Members shall clearly differentiate between personal views/statements and views/statements/positions made on behalf of the agency or association.
- Members shall report to appropriate authorities any corrupt or unethical behaviors in which there is sufficient evidence to justify review.
- Members shall refrain from discriminating against any individual because of race, gender, creed, national origin, religious affiliation, age, disability, or any other type of prohibited discrimination.
- Members shall preserve the integrity of private information; they shall refrain from seeking information on individuals beyond that which is necessary to implement responsibilities and perform their duties; members shall refrain from revealing nonpublic information unless expressly authorized to do so.
- Members shall make all appointments, promotions, and dismissals in accordance with established civil service rules, applicable contract agreements, and individual merit, rather than furtherance of personal interests.
- Members shall respect, promote, and contribute to a work place that is safe, healthy, and free of harassment in any form.
A professional code can provide a sense of belongingness; it can especially encourage the examination of higher ethical perspectives and moral practices. A code of ethics is a statement of principles concerning the behavior of those who subscribe to the code. The codes are standards of acceptable behavior developed by and for members of a profession. Professionals can all benefit, individually and as groups, by adhering to a code of their profession. Kultgen added that codes of conduct are instruments for persuasion of both members of a profession and the public. They enhance the sense of community among members, of belonging to a group with common values and a common mission.
Formal codes of ethics point to organizational values as well as prescribe specific guidelines for behavior and usages of discretion. Exemplar codes describe the perfect professional and in essence inspire ethical behavior. Value-oriented codes delineate unambiguous principles of ethical conduct. Disciplinary codes delineate obligatory rules of conduct and are more readily enforceable than the other types of codes. Besides establishing a framework for professional behavior and responsibilities and promoting occupational identity, a code of conduct also symbolizes occupational maturity, aids in defining acceptable behavior, promotes high standards of practice, and provides a benchmark for members to use for self-evaluation. Vivian Weil asserts that a profession’s ethical standards must be compatible with society’s common morality. Ethicist Carolyn Hopper suggests that formal guidelines to ethical decision making ought to consider appropriate questions, such as: Do certain actions violate organizational policy? Are any rights abridged? And will this stand the test of public scrutiny?
Many have attributed the popularity of codes of ethics, in the United States at least, to U.S. federal sentencing guidelines that reward organizations for having compliance policies, including codes of ethics, in place. However, the very exercise of developing a code in itself is worthwhile; it forces a large number of people “to think through in a fresh way their mission and the important obligations they as a group and as individuals have with respect to society as a whole.”
Parameters and guidelines formalize ethics for the architects and enforcers of the law; those guiding principles are the foundation for the formal codes of ethics of most law enforcement departments. Consistent with the public service orientation of the criminal justice system, codes inspire fair-mindedness, service, the practice of legal imperatives, and behavior consistent with professionalism. The formal foundation thus sets and sustains the image of criminal justice corrections as a profession.
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. “Code of Ethics.” http://www.acjs.org/pubs/167_671_2922.cfm (Accessed May 2013).
- American Corrections Association. “Code of Ethics.” http://www.aca.org/pastpresentfuture/ethics.asp (Accessed September 2013).
- American University. “Policies and Procedures—Adult Prisons and Jails.” Washington College of Law. http://www.wcl.american.edu/endsilence/policies.cfm (Accessed September 2013).
- Bissell, Le Clair and James E. Royce. Ethics for Addiction Professionals. Center City, MN: Hazeldon Foundation, 1994.
- Hopper, Carolyn. “Top Ten Questions You Should Ask Yourself When Making an Ethical Decision.” 1999. http://www.mtsu.edu/~u101irm/ethicques.html (Accessed June 2013).
- International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA). “Our Code of Ethical Conduct.” 2013. http://www.icpa.ca/pg_ethics.php (Accessed September 2013).
- Kultgen, John. Ethics and Professionalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.
- Pollock, Joycelyn M. Moral Dilemmas and Decisions in Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, 2nd ed., Emran Wasim Khan, ed. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center Online, 2009.
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