Ethical Issues in the Criminal Justice System

Ethical Issues in the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system relies on three critical aspects: law enforcement, the judicial system, and the correctional system. Challenges in the system can be seen in law enforcement and corrections. The United States leads the world in the amount of incarcerated citizens. Over 2.2 million citizens have been met with incarceration; and the incarceration rate has increased 500% within the last thirty years (Incarceration, 2015). From analyzing this rate increase, the United States must evaluate ethical issues within law enforcement and corrections. Evaluating these ethical issues will help in determining why the incarceration rate is increasing.

One of the main ethical issues in law enforcement is balancing power and authority. Police polices are created to ensure fairness in enforcing the law and protecting constitutional values. When police officers perform their important duties within the community, the authority to make decisions and the power to act on the authority raise ethical issues. According to Carter (2002), the use of excessive force is a main issue surrounding ethical practices in police departments. Recently, the United States has seen many incidents that question the proper use of discretion when police officers provide social control. For instance, incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, Charleston, South Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland has raised ethical questions about the proper use of lethal force. In order to ensure force is used in an ethical manner, law enforcement must review department polices. Analyzing proper transparency in training and hiring practices is also important. Agencies such as CALEA provide law enforcement with external, proper accreditation of law enforcement agencies. As policing becomes more complex, accreditation agencies such as CALEA are imperative for solving ethical issues in law enforcement. Accreditation agencies work to raise ethical standards in police policies, and they also work to raise trust within the community.

The United States’ correctional system also has ethical issues. One of the main ethical issues in corrections is the use of private prisons. With a 500% increase in the number of incarcerated citizens, the United States has moved toward using privately administrated prisons (Incarceration, 2015). According to Clear, Cole, and Reisig (2013), tax payers spend $38.2 billion a year on prisons. The main ethical issue in private prisons concerns inmate rehabilitation and care. Do private prisons focus on profits instead of rehabilitation? For instance, in 2010 Idaho fined the Corrections Corporation of America over $40,000 for hiring unqualified counselors and poor medical care in private prisons (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2013). Rehabilitation and proper medical care is imperative for inmates. Providing proper programming and mental health services will ensure correctional agencies are rehabilitating inmates instead of facilitating the release of more criminals in society. Demanding accountability within private prisons will deter corruption in these corporations, and demanding full transparency of operations and funding will further protect the state and the public’s interests.

The ethical issues in law enforcement and corrections can be alleviated. Agencies such as CALEA can provide law enforcement agencies with guidance, protections, and assurance polices created are in line with the local laws of the state and the Constitution. Accreditation can also provide accountability in police departments and provide trust within the community. Demanding private prisons comply with correctional standards will alleviate ethical issues in corrections. As private prisons become widely used, agencies such as CALEA should also be formed to regulate and review private prisons. Accountability and rehabilitation should be the main focus in analyzing ethical issues in corrections.


Carter, D. L. (2002). The police and the community (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Clear, T., Cole, G., & Reisig, M. (2013). American Corrections. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

Incarceration. (2015). Retrieved from The Sentencing Project:

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