Criminal Justice Ethics
Ethical theories are an important part of the decision-making process and in criminal justice especially, they are important in ensuring that the best outcomes are achieved in every situation. The criminal justice field is broad and accommodates numerous ethical theories in its fold. This paper thus analyzes the ethical theories articulated in the last four assignments and proffers opinions on how these theories guide decision-makers. The paper then explains the judicial system using one such theory before analyzing how virtue ethics influences the behavior and acts of criminal justice professionals personally, socially, and professionals. The paper then ends by exploring the best theory for individuals to use in order to achieve personal happiness, fulfillment, and a flourishing life.
Synthesis of Previous Assignments
In A Theory of Justice, Rawls provides an alternative to utilitarianism by arguing that people are equal and free citizens and thus everybody has the right to acquire what they want in life regardless of their socio-economic or physical status. Rawls uses the principles of virtue ethics, utilitarianism, hedonism, and virtue ethics to argue that unequal distribution of resources and opportunities does not make life unjust (Rawls, 2009). He opines that in the pursuit of justice, it is better to look at the greater good even though it means inequity on some people. It is for this reason that parents sacrifice for their kids even at their own detriment and why it is justifiable for the rich to be taxed more. Rawl’s theory is thus a justification of inequality in society.
Kantian ethics uses hypothetical and categorical imperatives to explain how people should act. The categorical imperative instructs people to perform acts that satisfy a particular function or desire while the hypothetical imperative calls on people to act in a way that promotes the well-being of the entire community regardless of personal desires. The hypothetical imperative has been used to argue for methodologies such as discretion in investigating and trying cases since discretion promotes the well-being of the entire community as opposed to the individual being tried. The hypothetical imperative has also been used to argue for torture since the information obtained will be useful in saving countless lives. Since the present society upholds civil liberties and individual human rights, there arises an ethical conflict in situations where the hypothetical imperative requires that these individual human rights be broken.
In assessing our reactions towards people and events, we consider either the moral aspect of the act or our individual reactions towards the situation. When considering the moral aspect, virtue ethics is used. This ethics is objective and impartial in that it applies the same principles towards everyone without regard for their well-being. The emotional response towards a situation is not considered, and thus it believes in equity. Virtue ethics and the ethics of social justice are closely linked in that both are objective in their analysis of situations and apply the same standards impartially. The ethics of care, on the other hand, accommodates emotions in analyzing and reacting to situations (White, 1991). This ethics believes in achieving goodness for all and promoting individual well-being thus rather than being objective and applying the same standards to all, it aims to accommodate the most affected party.
To be able to apply moral principles in judging situations and acts, a person has to be virtuous in nature. This virtuousness is, however, built over time beginning from when the individual is young. Every person has the prospect of being virtuous and this requires individual responsibility. The society also matters in developing this moral compass as people learn from interacting with others and older people should especially take a keen interest in guiding the younger generation. A virtuous society will thus bring up virtuous individuals, and associating with immoral people brings immorality.
How Ethical Theories Guide Decision-Making
Ethical theories provide a foundation for decision-making since they represent the viewpoints from which people seek guidance. Individuals make decisions in different ways, using different information, and applying varying decision rules but have a common set of goals including beneficence, respect for autonomy, least harm, and justice. Beneficence necessitates doing what is right and good and thus ethical theories will enable the decision-maker to determine what is right. Additionally, ethical theories require that least harm is done and in this case, the decision-maker is guided to perform acts that will cause the least harm to all affected parties. The principle of respect for autonomy also leads to people making independent decisions as it leads to people understanding the need for taking control of their own lives. The principle of justice also causes decision-makers to perform acts that are fair to all the parties involved. Each ethical theory has specific guidelines and this ensures that there is uniformity in decision-making for principals using the same theory.
Social Justice in the Judicial System
The most important concepts of the judicial system are fairness, equity, and impartiality. The judicial system looks to protect equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities by punishing wrongdoers. The principles of social justice are similar to these principles of the judicial system in more ways than one. Firstly, for the judicial system to exist there has to be set principles agreed upon by the citizens of a country and consequences set out for those who contravene these systems. When assessing whether an individual or institution engaged in wrongdoing, their deeds are analyzed against certain set rules (like the constitution) that do not care for the race, sex, social status, or other factors about the person. These rules are applied impartially to all and sundry and thus meet the principle of social justice that calls for impartiality. Judges have to be impartial and resist any instance that will lead to a conflict of interest (Banks, 2016). There are thus rules barring judges from taking bribes and abusing their power to benefit some individuals in the judicial system. This impartiality is also present in jury selection where members of the jury are picked regardless of their race or social backgrounds in a bid to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial. Individuals who cannot afford an attorney are also awarded one to ensure that they are represented and are not disadvantaged in trial.
The concept of fair trials also stems from the social justice concepts of human rights. Social justice acknowledges the importance of human rights such as equality before the law, fair and public hearings by independent tribunals, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and freedom of movement and residence. In the judicial system, the suspects are called so because they are innocent until proven guilty, and due to their freedom of liberty and movement they have to be taken to court within a specified period of time. This due process is thus a construct of social justice.
The remedies for wrongdoing in a trial also meet the equality principle as they aim to either deter wrongdoing, rehabilitate the individual, or offer retribution to the wronged individual. Crimes that are similar in nature have the same consequences hence ensuring equality while the least disadvantaged members of the society who suffer a wrongdoing get some form of retribution. Just like social justice, therefore, the main aim of the judicial system is to ensure that people in a society interact in a way that benefits everyone and offers the same opportunities for growth.
Virtue ethics concerns itself with the moral aspect of a decision and applies its principles equally without considering the welfare or social status of the parties involved. Additionally, those who fail to pass its standards are faced with the same consequences and for these reasons, it is significant for professionals in the criminal justice field. In the personal realm, virtue ethics is useful both at an interpersonal and intrapersonal level. Virtue ethics requires that we should uphold high moral standards, and as such our thoughts and actions should not be immoral in nature. Since virtue ethics also believes in equality, we should not deprive ourselves for the benefit of others. Additionally, we should not feel inferior to others or have the opinions of others affect how we live our lives since in virtue ethics we are all equal. Interpersonally, virtue ethics requires that we should not discriminate against others due to issues such as gender and social status. We should also treat others as our equals, which means wanting for others the same things that we would like for ourselves. Additionally, we should do good unto others without expecting a favor in return.
In the social realm, virtue ethics requires us to promote the equality of everyone through our deeds regardless of their backgrounds. Issues such as racial discrimination and corruption should not come to the fore since these are unethical acts that we would not like done unto us. Additionally, virtue ethics requires that we cease associating with people without virtue even if they are our friends. This type of ethics also requires that we should help others without discrimination as virtue ethics recognizes the vulnerability and interdependence of the human race. In our relationships, therefore, our acts should not only be morally right but they should also exist to serve the other parties in a beneficial way.
Criminal justice deals with the promotion of the individual rights and equality for all as recognized in set standards and laws. These standards and laws are principles of a moral nature that govern how we should live harmoniously with others. The ethics of virtue require that we promote equality for all, and thus criminal justice professionals should help those who have been wronged. In doing so, personal bias should be eliminated as the only consideration should be whether the other person acted in a morally upright manner in the circumstances regardless of social status or well-being. Additionally, these professionals should exclude themselves from situations where there is a conflict of interest and restrain themselves from being impaired by emotions. These professionals should also make decisions objectively having considered all the facts and recognize that their sacrifices are for a greater good and as such, they should perform their duties diligently without expecting rewards.
It is the goal of every human to be happy, but our happiness is not isolated since we live in constant communion with others. As such, in considering the actions that will lead to our happiness and personal fulfillment, we should consider not only our personal desire but also that of the larger community in which we live in. To me, the best ethical theory to achieve this is Kantian ethics since it encompasses both personal desires and the needs of the community. The categorical imperative instructs people to perform acts in pursuance of a certain desire or purpose. Fulfilling personal desires leads to happiness and feelings of fulfillment and having set targets and goals in life leads to a person accomplishing more as they concentrate their efforts on acts that will actualize that objective. On the other hand, the categorical imperative enables one to not only coexist harmoniously with other people but also proceed as a community. Doing good to others without expecting reward not only stimulates feelings of contentment but also benefits the community and ensures continuity. Distancing oneself from others in the community leads to loneliness and a low standard of life as we are social beings. Personally, for example, I desire to see my two children safe and happy and my community prospering. The pursuance of my Bachelor’s degree is thus not only meant to fulfill my personal desire to be educated but is also intended at equipping me with the skills necessary for ensuring the prosperity of my family and community. All of these desires satisfy the principles of Kantian ethics and would no doubt lead to my happiness and fulfillment.
In conclusion, there are many ethical theories that can be applied to criminal justice including Kantian ethics, social justice, the ethics of virtue, and that of care. These theories provide a framework for decision-making by setting out guiding principles to be followed and outlining the intended outcomes. Social justice is one of these theories and it has wide implications for the judicial system since its principles of equality, impartiality, fairness, and protection of the disadvantaged are the same ones utilized in the judicial system. The ethics of virtue is also useful in guiding our reactions and behavior towards others since it emphasizes on the moral character of individuals. For personal fulfillment, however, Kantian ethics is more appropriate since it offers guidance on how to satisfy one’s personal desires and duties while also contributing to the betterment of the entire community.
Banks, C. (2016). Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice. New York: SAGE Publications.
Rawls, J. (2009). A Theory of Justice. Cambridfe, MA: Harvard University Press.
White, T. I. (1991). Discovering Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.