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Criminal Justice Ethics: A Framework for Analysis
Authors: by John J. Sloan III (Author)
Based on author John Sloan’s thirty years of teaching ethics–and on conversations with, and research conducted on–police officers, prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and corrections professionals, Criminal Justice Ethics: A Framework for Analysis offers students a framework for analyzing ethical issues involving criminal justice practitioners. Sloan provides a unique template that is designed to help students reach conclusions about the ethics of behavior and to develop and apply ethical reasoning skills to both their personal and professional lives.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am neither a criminal justice practitioner, nor do I play one on television. I am also not a philosopher, nor am I an ethicist. In fact, I am a sociologist by training and a criminologist by specialization. “So,” you may be saying to yourself, “what makes him qualified to write a textbook on criminal justice ethics?”
One reason I’m qualified is that for over 30 years, I’ve conducted research on various aspects of the criminal justice system, the agencies that comprise it, and the people that staff them. As part of my research, I’ve studied how criminal justice practitioners exercise discretion; the organization and operation of police agencies, prosecutors’ offices, and juvenile courts; and how appeals court judges reach decisions in the cases before them.
I’ve also surveyed, conducted focus groups with, and interviewed hundreds of practitioners and learned what their professional lives involved, including the ethical issues they confronted. Additionally, for over 20 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) I taught a required course on criminal justice ethics to thousands of undergraduate students who majored in criminal justice, and for more than 10 years taught a graduatelevel course on ethics to students pursuing a master’s degree in computer forensics and security management. In preparation for teaching those courses, I’ve read about, studied,
and discussed ethics with academic philosophers, psychologists, and others interested in ethics. I even received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014 to convene a workshop on ethics and digital forensics that was attended by scholars and practitioners alike, all of whom were interested in ethics in the criminal justice context.
I say all of this not to pat myself on the back or to impress you (which I’m fairly sure I haven’t managed to do—at least not yet—but give me a chance!). Rather, I share this introductory tale to advise you that the perspective guiding this book is academic, although its tone is supposed to be informal (but only you can judge how well that turned out!). What I mean is that the information presented in this book is based on scholarly research and commentary, rather than “war stories” or experience as might come from an author who’d spent time as a police officer, crime scene investigator, probation officer,
judge, or prosecutor. On hearing this, some readers may at once dismiss the book as a fruitless exercise by a “pointy-headed academic,” but let me add something. Over the 30 years I’ve conducted research on the criminal justice system, I have engaged in countless conversations with police officers (ranging from patrol officers and shift sergeants to multiple chiefs of police), prosecuting attorneys (including several district attorneys, US attorneys, and my late father, who was an assistant district attorney in Detroit), judges, probation officers—including those working with juveniles, prison wardens, and directors of state and federal prison systems. One common element in conversations with these practitioners involved/revolved around ethics and the sorts of ethical issues these people faced along the way and were willing to share with me. To a degree, then, the stories I’ve heard from and conversations I’ve had with those good people over the years both informed and shaped not only how I teach ethics to criminal justice and computer
forensics students, but also how I think about ethics and criminal justice. This book is my attempt to share with you, in a conversational tone, what I have learned about criminal justice ethics over three decades and why I think ethics in the practice of criminal justice is a pretty important topic.
Because you are reading a book on criminal justice ethics, it’s likely you are majoring in criminal justice, criminology, or some related field, like homeland security or law and society. Chances are also good that you are interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice, whether in law enforcement, forensic science, the courts, corrections, or perhaps even research. Your interest in criminal justice may have developed because you love socalled police procedurals (e.g., CSI, NCIS, Law and Order SVU) that are a staple of primetime television, or so-called reality shows like Cops Reloaded or North Woods Law. You may
have envisioned yourself, like one of the main characters in these shows, solving a case, arresting the “bad guys,” and ensuring that “justice is done” for victims.
Perhaps your interest in criminal justice developed because someone in your family is working (or has worked) in the system as a police officer, probation officer, prosecutor, or other official, or you encountered someone who worked in the system who had a positive influence on your life. Because of these people, you decided the careers they had chosen were important on some level; that what they do is righteous, noble, virtuous, or honorable.
These people give back to the community. They put their lives on the line to protect and serve others they don’t even know. They work to ensure victims are not forgotten or that offenders who engage in crime are first punished, but also given a second chance. In short, you respect these people and what they do, and want to become one of them.
Alternatively, it could be that your interest in criminal justice arose because you or someone you knew experienced an injustice at the hands of a criminal justice practitioner.
Perhaps you were unfairly pulled over by a police officer for “driving while black”
(Bhatnagar, 2009) or saw corrupt criminal justice officials reaping benefits from the injustices they perpetrated. These experiences motivated you to learn more about the criminal justice system and ultimately helped you decide to try and change the system from the inside.
Regardless of your motivation for wanting to become a criminal justice practitioner, you probably view the system and its personnel as either just or good or as having the potential to become as much. You may see the people working in the system as good.
Rather than seeking to destroy, they seek to build. Rather than caring only about self, they care about others. They are upright and virtuous. Additionally, you may perceive that what they do is also good. Fighting crime, helping victims, and ensuring that criminals are fairly punished for their behavior is good, at least in part because the result is preservation of the social order. Helping offenders “learn from their mistakes” and get a “second chance” is good as well, as it results in positive change for these individuals, who can then be welcomed back into the community