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Ethics and Heroes
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 12/30/2013

Ethics a Ethics: A simple concept for many, yet so difficult for others. Have you ever thought why so many in corrections struggle with this? This includes all personnel; no one is immune from participating in ethical violations. In our training academies, ethics are discussed and taught to our recruits. Also, ethics training is part of our annual in-service training.

Our agencies provide additional ethics support for all employees. This includes ethics hotlines to report incidents, information in personnel manuals or handbooks, and shift meetings. There must be open communication at all levels. Even with initiatives in place, ethics continue to be problematic in some facilities.
“Most people are ethical and behave appropriately, but some people in positions of responsibility will abuse those positions by engaging in unethical conduct. There are some correctional employees who have carried drugs into the institution, have become sexually involved with offenders, and have participated in the physical abuse of inmates. This conduct compromises the security and integrity of the organization. It presents a danger for staff and offenders alike, and it is a flagrant assault on the mission of corrections.”
James A. Gondles, Jr.
Executive Director
American Correctional Association
We must understand ethical violations have a negative impact not only on the agency, but also staff, inmate population, family, friends, and the public’s confidence. Most staff work very hard to earn trust and present a positive and professional image. We must not lose sight of this goal

The so called “bad apples” exist in our facilities and often find themselves on the “slippery slope.” The largest percentage of officers did not enter the corrections field to engage in corruption and other illegal activities. Somewhere along the way, these staff lost sight of the ‘mission statement and code of ethics. The media is quick to report on ethical issues involving corrections personnel. Indictments occur ranging from excessive force, contraband, sexual misconduct and other illegal activities. This puts a blemish on correction staff. The questions then become “what happened and how did this occur?” This is not easy to answer in most cases.

Staff makes a decision to participate in unethical behavior. There are a variety of reasons for , which can include a need to assist inmates with illegal activities due to fear of threats and reprisal, peer pressure, and burnout. The disheartening part surfaces when officers do not let someone know and all of a sudden reach a point of ‘no return’ in their minds. Often the officer resigns suddenly, does not report for work and cannot be contacted, becomes bold and over confident, and now may face consequences.

At the same time, staff are aware of the ethical violations and will not report this for a variety of reasons. Some officers present the image to others; “if you are going to do something illegal, do not do it in my presence. I am not going to lie for you.” Other officers will choose to cover for the officer violating policy and rules. Then we wonder why we have problems.

When you have time do a simple self-assessment and ask yourself the following: What does “ethics” mean to you? Do morals, ethics, character, integrity, and discretion come into play? Do you feel you have the support at your unit of assignment and feel comfortable to talk with someone, or feel the “Code of Silence” is prevalent? I also ask the following of our leaders: Have you also completed a self-assessment? Do you know what your leadership style is and is this in-line with the mission statement? Do you know what really occurs behind the walls and gates?

I provided some hard questions that must be answered to ensure ‘ethics’ are not violated at any level. An individual cannot make changes without the commitment and dedication to change. Knowing one has support of administration is a must. All of us have a responsibility to uphold ethics and not become part of the problem.

Consider this: When you can go home at night and go to sleep without stress or guilt, do not need alcohol and/or drugs to sleep, perhaps you are a hero. Take time in your life to reflect on those staff you want to emulate for all the “good” examples they set, and let them know. Give them a pat on the back. We are the future of corrections and must lead by example and set the tone. “Do the right thing.” When you look in the mirror and like what you see, you are a hero.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at criminaljustice@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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