Criminal Justice System Unethical Behaviors

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The criminal justice system is no longer trusted to provide the parties in question with justice and equity. The main cause of such an occurrence is the increase in unethical behavior within the system. The development and spread of corruption among the judiciary's various players has made it difficult to administer justice and fairness. It is clear that the intended integrity of the judicial system is no longer present as corruption is occurring throughout all system procedures. Unethical behavior starts from the investigative process by the police, who are also considered the most corrupt entity within the system to the judges that make decisions and determine cases. With such occurrences, it is evident that access to justice from the criminal justice system is no longer based on the law and evidence rather; it involves a situation of who has the necessary money to buy the justice. With such occurrences, it is evident that the most viable means of combating the unethical behavior of the criminal justice system revolves around the administration policymakers holding to account people to account for their unethical conduct.


Criminal justice and ethics are two elements that work in close relation. Ideally, in many countries, the government plays a critical role in the protection of certain liberties in place of the citizenry. Criminal justice professionals are government agents mandated with the protection of the rights and are required to uphold the highest ethical levels and moral character while performing their duties for the justice of all. Such an aspect requires that virtually all the criminal justice system professionals exercise the use of discretion at their disposal at different times in their careers, most notably when faced with particular ethical dilemmas, contrary to taking the stand in matters that involve broader ethical issues. Whenever discretionary decisions are made based on the guidance of ethics, such decisions are made as fair and just, considering the existence of certain moral obligations that stand higher than others do. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system remains one of the systems that are faced with highest incidences of unethical behaviors from the different professionals. Combating such unethical practices in the criminal judicial system requires that the administration policymakers hold to account all the people found accountable for the unethical conduct.

The current society plays a critical attention to issues of ethics in the criminal justice system. Since the late 1990s, standards in the criminal justice system have been a hot topic of discussion that remains of great concern to many in the 21st century (Banks, 2012). While ethics in the criminal justice system refers to all the branches within the system, the increased role of policing has increased the interconnection of ethical issues and policing in today’s society. Ethics play a significantly important role in the criminal justice field. Unethical behavior in such a system varies from one case to another and from different professionals. However, the practice of unethical behavior in the criminal justice system occurs as an influence of four main elements including misguided loyalties; egoism and the abuse of authority; prejudice and discrimination; and finally lies and deception (Siegel & Worrall, 2014).

In the recent times; however, corruption has become the greatest unethical behavior in the criminal justice system (Vance, Lowry, & Eggett, 2013). For this paper, an understanding of the unethical behavior in the criminal justice system involves three areas of policing, courts, and corrections (Sokol, 2012). Corruption has become manifest in the three sectors, thus becoming one of the greatest unethical issues. Corruption seems to affect all the different areas of the system including corruption in police officers, correctional offers, probation officers, judges, attorneys, prosecutors among others. Similarly, the relationship that exists between stress, ethical issues, and corruption is seen as a significant contributor to the unethical behavior of the criminal justice system. Ethical behavior is a learned process, and as such is shaped by experience. In an environment with fewer temptations and threats of action, acting in utmost ethical manner is indeed an occurrence that comes easy (Dominelli, 2012). However, in hostile environments with temptations, threats, and insults, serving in an ethical manner poses the greatest of challenges to the concerned individuals. Such an occurrence is the dilemma that is currently facing the different professionals in the criminal justice system. With corruption being commonplace within the system, acting and behaving in an ethical manner has become a challenge, thus contributing to the increased incidences of unethical behavior in the system (Simpson, 2013).

While corruption has been in the criminal justice system not for a reasonable period, its contribution to the weakening of ideals within the system has become a normative issue. Furthermore, its existence in the system is a clear point that addresses the change that is taking shape among the criminal justice professionals (Vance, Lowry, & Eggett, 2013). Such occurrences provide an opportunity for investigation into the social-psychological contribution into the influence of corruption into the increasing unethical behavior in the criminal justice system. From such a perspective, it is evident that there exists a close relationship between a challenging professional working environment and unethical behavior among those participating in the system.

Among the different professionals in the criminal justice system, the policing wing seems to have the greatest challenges about corruption and thus, unethical behavior (Banks, 2012). Corruption in the police service has in the recent past become under considerable scrutiny from the public, with a common perception that it contributes to the highest incidences of unethical behaviors in the criminal justice system. Whereas ethics mean different things to different people, one fundamental aspect concerning ethics is that it is majorly a personal thing (Sokol, 2012). As it is familiar to many people, in earlier ages, a mindset is established in individuals with the rule of doing unto others that which you would want them to do unto you. Unfortunately, as we progress through life, every person starts to develop a new sense of morality and ethical behavior. Ethics and morality work in unison and the ethical and moral values instilled in people during the early stages of life remains manifest until their adult life (Dominelli, 2012). The different life challenging situations are nothing but tests of morality and ethical behavior. Unfortunately, such perspectives are not for those that seek for careers in the criminal justice system.

From whichever area that one has a duty to perform in the criminal justice system; such a task usually comes with lots of responsibility. Not everyone stands a chance in the criminal justice system, most especially because of the liability that comes such a task within the system. While the different departments within the criminal justice system require individuals to acquire certain levels of competence in schooling, ethical training is never a priority under such curricula (Maxfield, 2015). Ideally, the lack of moral training in the curricula for the training of the criminal justice system professionals contributes significantly towards the increased unethical behavior among the professionals. Ethics has always remained and remains an important issue within the criminal justice practice, based on the consideration that the criminal justice practitioners are individual under scrutiny. The latest study on the conduct of the criminal justice professionals reveals that ethics should become part of the curricula as a means of ensuring that ethical behavior is upheld within the system.

Proper governance and efficient accountability are elements that work appropriately in the promotion of proposition for the entire society. Ideally, such aspects collaborate with community policing, protection and legitimacy. However, with an increasing number of complaints about the police, the concern is rising against the essential element of confidence between the police service and the public as well as the other law enforcement officials. Under the criminal justice system, the police are usually mandated with the role of investigation of cases. In the situation, that the police have become some of the unethically behaved individuals in the system from their engagement in corrupt deals, then confidence is lost (Vance, Lowry, & Eggett, 2013).

Considering the change experienced in societies today, police responsibilities have also changed. Among the variations in the functions of the police include those of technological deployments, new combat units, specialized units for specific occasions, managerial administration among others. With the development of new responsibilities, ethical training and policing standards have equally been on the increase with an absolute focus put on the element of accountability.

Without much ado, it is evident that no other profession requires a higher demand for ethical standard than that of law enforcement (Maxfield, 2015). Ideally, the demand to do the right thing is of great importance and significance in the criminal justice system considering that such a system requires the dispensation of justice in the utmost good faith. With a higher degree of expectations placed on all the professionals from investigations to case determinations, it is important that all concerned parties behave ethically as a means of gaining public trust and also administering justice (Rattner, 2015). From the understanding that unethical behavior in the criminal justice system being on a regular rise in the recent past with corruption from various quarters taking the lead, great strides have occurred in the law enforcement profession, with the sole aim of ensuring the restoration of ethics and ethical behavior in the system. Corruption in the entire criminal justice system serves to undermine the overall legitimacy of law enforcement and justice delivery, thus the unethical behavior of the whole system (Ruedy, et al., 2013).

Similar to the case of police, there exists the potential of corruption within the other sectors of the judicial system including the correctional officers who as well, are not immune to the vice. The corruption among the correctional officers takes varies forms with the leading instances including contraband smuggling, sexual involvement with inmates, as well as abuse of prisoners (Siegel & Worrall, 2014). Just like the case of police participation in corruption within the criminal justice system, correctional officers equally have some motivators towards their involvement in corruption thus unethical behavior. A majority of the contributing factors are those observed in the criminological theory posited for criminals amongst the general population (Lasthuizen, Huberts, & Heres, 2011). The standard attributing factors include low education. From the numerous studies conducted on the causes of correction officers’ engagement in corruption within the criminal justice system, low education levels have always been an important determinant. Lower education levels increase the likelihood of unethical behavior, most notably corruption. Indeed, it is no surprise that the higher susceptibility of correctional officers to corruption is attributed to low education levels.

Reciprocity is another factor contributing significantly towards increased corruption among the correction officers. Correction officers often rely on other system professionals as well as the inmates in helping them accomplish their jobs. Under many occasions, the assistance offered involves returning favors for deeds performed (Rocque, Welsh, & Raine, 2012). Whenever there are instances of misconduct from either an inmate or other criminal justice professional, correction officers are expected to provide favors in return, which in such cases would equally involve behaving unethically. Such incidences have often contributed immensely towards the increase of corruption within the criminal justice system and thus, diminished integrity and fairness dispensation. The thin blue line is yet another contributing factor to bribery of correctional officers as well as other professionals in the system. Just like in the case of counterpart policing, corrections inclines the members into a subculture of upholding loyalty to the groups above anything else. Such an occurrence place the correctional officers in such a position that they would rather opt for nonfeasance in contrast to whistleblowing against a corrupt deed of a coworker within the system (Hershfield, Cohen, & Thompson, 2012).

Interestingly, despite the different factors contributing to unethical behavior among correction officers through corruption, the thin blue line stands as the most dangerous of all. One of its primary attributes is the fact that it creates an environment of tolerance to corruption and other unethical behaviors. It is an aspect of vital importance for the criminal justice system that those bestowed with different tasks and responsibilities should be unwilling to be part of a fellow engaging in corrupt activities (Hershfield, Cohen, & Thompson, 2012). Ideally, such an spect is one particular area that the correction system and the larger criminal justice system needs to address, especially during the selection of potential candidates for the different positions as well as during the training sessions for recruits, which should at all times encompass the whole concept of integrity and ethical behavior (Rocque, Welsh, & Raine, 2012).

The correctional arm of the criminal judicial system also engages in corruption within the prison settings where officers influence justice by receiving favors from the inmates, especially regarding sex (Pollock, 2014). Such a scenario is most common in the women’s prisons; however, similar cases have also been reported in male prisons where the female officers become the greatest perpetrators of corruption after soliciting from sexual favors from the offenders.

Every nation has certain codes of conduct as well as other ethical codes used as guidelines for probation officers while performing their duties. Despite the fact that probation officers are considered more professional than it is with correction officers, the corruption within the two working systems remains similar. Probation officers play a vital role in the sentencing of inmates, considering that they make recommendations to judges concerning the sentencing of prisoners (Lasthuizen, Huberts, & Heres, 2011). While the probation officers write reports presented to judges before any sentencing is made, studies have established that there are instances in which the statements submitted could be of false information, with individual officers not being thorough in their information investigations. With the authority and power to recommend for revocation against an inmate, it is evident that probation officers indeed play a significant role in justice dispensation within the criminal justice system. Such an inherent power placed on the probation officers demands that they are not misused and not taken lightly; however, from different investigations, it has been realized that some of the practices employed in the decision-making processes are either illegal or unethical (Pollock, 2014).

While performing their duties, the probation officers could come about certain unethical behavior but fail to address the information as intended mainly because of some feeling of fear as well as not being comfortable. Such occurrences are evident in instances in which the rule of engagement amongst the workers requires concealing the wrongdoings of others as in the case of correction officers. The continued presence of such an aspect over time results in the development of a standard that accepts unethical behavior and practice as a norm (Maxfield, 2015). In other cases, some of the probation recommendations presented to the judges to assist them in the sentencing are attributes of bribery and favoritism from the culprits (Pope, 2015). Similarly, decisions could equally be made with the intentions of not causing violations based on unethical criteria. Under such instances, it is evident that judges are misled into making wrong sentences against certain individuals who would require a contrary sentencing. With such a perspective, it is obvious that justice would never be served in some cases, despite the need and necessity of making such an achievement. Poor supervisory practices among the probation officers are equal contributors to unethical behavior among the probation officers through corruption. While engaging in corruption among the probation officers remain a standard practice, the whole criminal justice system stands in a challenging position as some activities within the system depend on the probation officers. Once the probation officers are corrupted into providing false information against the offenders under the watch, the entire justice system is then put in jeopardy.

In any democracy governed by the rule of law, it is necessary that the criminal justice system remains an independent branch of the government in performing its role in the protection of human rights and liberty based on fair trials by competent and impartial professionals (Ruedy, et al., 2013). While the judicial system should at all times offer equally in justice dispensation; however, with obvious corruption within such a system, it is only the wealthy and the powerful who escape prosecution and conviction, while the larger section of the society is excluded from access to fairness and justice. While different professionals in the judicial system could have such unethical behaviors, the situation becomes worse whenever judges and prosecutors become the players in the scenario. The corruption among the judges never happen in isolation, rather, it usually involves some other players within the judicial system (Lasthuizen, Huberts, & Heres, 2011). Payment of bribe is usually the most common form of corruption among judges and magistrates as an inducement towards the making of a favorable ruling or decision. Since physical contact between the judges and the accused is minimal, propagation of corruption usually occurs with the assistance of police officers as well as the correction and probation officers, who often make contact with the culprits. Judges employ various tricks in their corrupt dealings, which in the public eye seems normal but with an in-depth investigation provides a proper insight into the actual occurrences (Crawshaw et al., 2013). In some cases, judges affect the procedural process of an example by continually adjourning cases while awaiting some payment to be effected.

Judges and magistrates could also engage in unethical behaviors by succumbing to political pressures from those that have substantive influence on the judicial system. Whereas it is important that the justice system remains independent from external interference, unethical practices among the professions play a vital role in the alteration of such a requirement. Judges would make bias rulings and decisions for those with a powerful connection to the system as a means to effect certain professional benefits such as promotions at the expense of justice (Maxfield, 2015). Whenever judges and magistrates give in to such incentives, then such behavior is considered unethical and goes against the professional code of ethics demanded from such individuals of excellent reputation in justice dispensation.

In a fair and properly instituted criminal judicial systems, those found guilty of crimes seldom go scot-free while the innocent also rarely is punished. Under corrupt regimes, the criminals in power run the systems and ensure that the innocent are not only denied justice and protection, they have also been brainwashed to accept such occurrences as normal (Pope, 2015). Whereas a significant majority of people, especially those in the political front consistently make claims in their belief and faith in the judiciary as they are never found guilty of offenses. Such a claim is legally sound; however, from an in-depth perspective, the claim is a pointer towards the false evidence in the criminal judicial system. Living under a corrupt criminal justice system is that those mandated by the law to make legislation that run the justice system do so in such a way that they create loopholes that allow them to escape any punishments even in instances in which they commit heinous crimes (Crawshaw et al., 2013). Attorneys and prosecutors are individuals who should uphold the moral integrity at all times while performing their duties in ensuring justice for all. Unfortunately, with the high levels of corruption and unethical behaviors within the system, getting justice served by the attorney and the prosecutors is one most difficult assignment.

In fact, a majority of the wrongful convictions that occur in the criminal justice system are attributes of honest mistakes made by the professionals in the system (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2014). Similarly, in most cases, the people mandated with the responsibility of ensuring that truth and justice prevail, usually lose sight of the bigger picture of such an obligation while restraining their focus only on the part of securing convictions. Despite the existence of trustworthy prosecutors within the system, criminal justice is a system of human endeavor and as such experiences the possibility of elements such as negligence, misconduct, and corruptions, which are all cases of unethical behavior (Stevens, Deuling & Armenakis, 2012). With the existence of any corrupt and dishonest individual within the system, in particular for prosecutors, wrong convictions remains a problem for the future. The Office of Public Prosecutions being the agency that institutes and undertakes criminal proceedings, the existence of any unethical behavior such as corruption has important effects on the entire criminal and justice system (Stevens, Deuling, & Armenakis, 2012).

Among the most easily influenced individuals in the criminal judicial systems are the prosecutors. Some reasons contribute to such an occurrence. First, prosecutors are usually political appointees who undergo vetting and approval by the politicians. From such a viewpoint, the politicians often control the different departments of the judicial systems, making the system work in their favor in almost all situations. With such an approach to dealings, it is evident that the professionals within the justice system engage in certain unethical behaviors from the fear of losing their positions or getting transfers to undesired locations (Crossler et al., 2013). The most appropriate way of freeing the criminal and justice system from the stranglehold of the interference from different quarters is the placement of its various departments under the under an independent agency, which would insulate the influence of the political and the wealthy class from determining justice through their corrupt deals. Unethical behavior among the different players in the criminal justice system is a recipe for failure in the delivery of justice and fairness in trials and case determinations.

Like in the event of corruption among the individuals within the criminal justice system, agencies could as well work together in influencing of the unethical behavior among the members. While corruption among individual could be easily addressed with the establishment of appropriate structures, corruption involving an agency is an uphill task to uproot. Understanding the whole situation in the corrupt dealings within the criminal justice system, it is important to look at the causes of such deals in such agencies. Research reveals four leading causes of the corruption within the agencies include the absence of a balanced combination of both the positive and negative incentives for corruption, collision between the different actors in the judicial system, poor management and access to cases, and the lack of judicial independence (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2014). Poor remuneration for the judicial professionals and lack of proper training on the elements of ethical behavior as well as the lack of disciplinary action against the errant judges and other officers plays a vital role in propagating of corruption within the system. With minimal pay and unreasonable workloads, which increases the stress level among the judges and other judicial officers, the opportunity is seized from those willing to buy their freedom and justice through shady deals to engage in the vice. Besides, in instances in which it is proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a particular officer has involved in crime, the protection offered by the system against one of their own jeopardizes the entire process of disciplining the errant officers. The situation has worsened, and currently, most people have taken it as a norm that the criminal justice system can never dispense justice and fairness as an attribute of the increased corruption in the system (Stevens, Deuling, & Armenakis, 2012).

A collision between the different players in the judicial system is equally a significant contributor towards the increasing corruption and unethical behavior in the system. Because judges and magistrates have regular contacts with some elements of the judiciary such as the clerks who register, file, and process court orders, such connections provide leeway for engagement in corrupt deals. From the clerks’ desks, money is extorted from litigants for the provision of information as well as the extraction of favors from magistrates in the courts. On a similar perspective, lawyers who solicit bribes from their clients also share the provisions with judges and magistrates for leniency in case determinations. Such interactions in the system through collaborations are a facilitation and sustenance of corruption, which in turn hampers the reform efforts for vice mitigation (Stevens, Deuling, & Armenakis, 2012).

Poor case management and the lack of independence in the judicial system are also propagating effects of the increased corruption in the system. Ideally, the constant interference with legal processes by the external influence such as the politicians hampers the reform process in the system. Politicians and other wealthy individuals use their societal positions to intimidate the judicial officers into making decisions in their favor through engaging in the corrupt deals (Koppl & Sacks, 2013).


From the study of the consequences associated with the corruption and other unethical behaviors in the criminal judicial system, there is an urgent need to fix the problems. From the various observations addressed, it is vivid that the most viable solution to the entire situation is the holding to account the individuals found responsible for the unethical behavior of the system. Behaving ethically or unethically is a personal decision and therefore, requires a different tackling to come up with the best solutions. Based on the findings in the discussion, it is evident that there are certain cases that an entire agency engages in corruption as in the event of the blue line theory in which an individual fails to expose a corrupt activity from a fellow as a means of returning favors. From such a point of view, it is evident that tackling the unethical behavior menace from a group’s perspective would yield little success, thus, holding every individual who engages in the vice to account, remains the most viable solution. Besides, the establishment of criminal justice reform commissions is necessary that will study the wrong convictions made and determine the specific causes to such occurrences while advocating for changes within the system.


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July 15, 2023




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