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Ethics and Heroes
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Kaplan University, School of Public Safety
Published: 12/21/2015

Officer-a Our topic for December includes two topics: ethics and heroes. I elected to begin with ‘Heroes.’ I feel that workers employed in the field of corrections; regardless if in uniform or non-uniform are unsung heroes. It takes a special person to perform the daily duties and responsibilities while being firm, fair, and consistent. This includes working with many difficult offenders and situations that can become very volatile in the blink of an eye. Officers and staff are exposed to daily violence, verbal abuse, threats, and other issues on a daily basis. Yet throughout the shift they are required to remain professional and this is just part of an ordinary day.

Some officers and staff will be recognized individually, however is this a disservice to those officers performing at the same level and not recognized? Many officers and staff thrive on the recognition and working environment, while others will still be diligent, responsible, and professional with little or no recognition. This is one of the reasons all of you are ‘heroes.’ You may not receive recognition however, I and others recognize the very important role each of you performs on a daily basis. Give yourself a pat on the back and smile, you are a hero.

As you know, the profession you selected is one where all are not able to work and succeed. Many cannot deal with being locked in a building, behind the walls and fences, and no way out unless an officer opens a door or secure gate. At the same time, you are in contact with some offenders who will never go home. The prison environment and culture is a world in itself and one where fear can get you hurt. Again, a hero who selected corrections as their chosen career and feel they can make a difference and positive impact on some offenders. Regardless of what you may think, you are a role model for others.

Ethics

The following is a generic definition for ethics and located in http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic
  • rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad,
  • an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior,
  • a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong,
  • a belief that something is very important
We know what our ethics consist of and also what departmental requirements are for ethics. During our initial training and throughout the year, ethics training is mandatory. Most agencies provided a policy with strict guidelines to follow for ethical behavior and even have a zero tolerance policy, hotline, and other procedures to report ethical violations.

In the field of corrections as you know, our offenders are some of the most unethical individuals. However, at times we are quick to condemn these unethical behaviors and then turn around and commit some ourselves. Go figure. At the same time we are supposed to have the ‘public trust and confidence.’ Yet this can diminish with unethical behavior on the part of officers and staff. This becomes disheartening when we are in the public and hear words that hurt and are embarrassing. Some examples; these are the only people who prisons will hire. The officers are no worse than the inmates. Everyone working in corrections is corrupt, and other. We work hard to not present this image, yet some of our staff and officers still continue to participate in unethical behaviors.

Character, trust, morals, integrity, and doing the right thing are all related to ethics. We learned at an early age what is acceptable and not acceptable. We also know that all career fields face ethical dilemmas. As mentioned previously, this becomes even more of a dilemma when we are city, county, state, and federal employees. We work for the public and are supposed to have their ‘trust and confidence.’

If we have to think about something prior to making a decision, more than likely this decision will be unethical. In our own minds we can justify our actions, yet this still does not mean we made the right decision. Do the right thing means making the correct decision. You do not have to think very long about this. Challenges occur when we allow the following to occur; we are insecure, degradation, corruption, threats if you do not participate, weakness, fear, illicit gratification, peer pressure, impulse, opportunity, abuse of power, and other. The list can go on and on, yet we know what is acceptable and to avoid any potential pitfalls. Personally, takes an ethical person to stand up and say “No” rather than to give in to the temptations. We have set the tone and direction and it does not take long for other officers, staff, and inmates to recognize this.

Ethics begin with our leadership along with the tone and direction established. There must be zero tolerance and when someone commits unethical behavior, they should be held accountable regardless of who they are and who they know. We are taught in corrections to be firm, fair, and consistent. Yet at times the ‘good old boy system comes into play’ or inconsistencies occur based on who we know. Again, at times we can be our own worst enemies. Remember, there are no secrets in corrections. If we cannot set the tone and abide by the rules, then how can we expect the inmates, staff, and public to be tolerant?

I leave you with a comment from an author, Edwing J. Delattre:
“No one who does not already care about being a good person and doing what is right can have a serious ethical question. A person must have achieved a disposition to do the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reasons before any moral perplexities can arise.”

Happy holidays and stay safe.
Terry

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 tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell



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