When you think about the term “ethics,” what does it mean to you? What are your personal ethics? Are those personal ethics the same set of ethics you follow at work?
Ethics govern someone’s behavior and are the moral principles they follow in everyday life. Common ethics are honesty, integrity and respect. The study of ethics looks at what is morally right or wrong and what is just and unjust. When it comes to ethics within the criminal justice system, things become very complex.
There are ethics within the police department, for lawyers and attorneys, for courts and much more. Often the ethics that each of the previously listed sectors of the system follow are not those that community members believe they should. For example, the ethics that a police department may follow are different from those that abolitionists or other justice reformists may believe are right.
In the criminal justice system, ethics are constantly being tested. Each profession within the system has its own set of values and principles, which often include impartiality, integrity and respect. Ethics in the criminal justice system were put in place to help promote public trust, but what happens when the public starts to lose that trust?
The past few years have tested the criminal justice system and its ethics. There has been a rise in public skepticism about the ethics and functioning of the sectors within the criminal justice system. How can the criminal justice system change in order to uphold its stated ethics of impartiality, integrity and respect while rebuilding trust?
While I do not know the answer to this question, it is important to think about your own ethics before you can begin to answer such a big question. When you think about your own ethical values, think about if those ethics are your personal ones or ones that can and should be used in a broader, societal sense.
You can have multiple sets of ethics in your life. For example, you may have personal ethics that you carry with you on a daily basis, and you may have ethics that are mainly present in your work life. Whatever those ethics are and however you carry them in your life, think about the ethics you want others to follow. Think about the practices that are needed to make sure there is respect, impartiality and integrity. Are there other ethics that need to be in place to uphold these? What ethics do you want others to uphold? What are ethics that make you feel safe and build trust within a community?
Flora Mellana-Edison is an undergraduate student majoring in criminal justice with a specialization in forensic psychology and minoring in psychology. She is a member of the Youth Leadership Board at Creative Justice and also serves as the organization’s Restitution Relief Coordinator.
Read more of the Sept. 21-27, 2022 issue.