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Each specialist working in the field of justice (as well as each student who is planning to build his/her career in this sphere) must follow ethical standards of moral conduct that provide guidance in complex or controversial situations, especially those involving ethical dilemmas. It is also crucial to formulate one’s individual understanding of ethics since it is not a rare case for criminal justice professionals to deal with problems in which universal rules are inapplicable, and a personalized approach is required.
Thus, the paper at hand is going to discuss my personal philosophy of balancing issues. It will cover such topics as individual rights and the public’s protection, reward and punishment, and immoral means to accomplish desirable results. The discussion of the Ethics of Care and Peacemaking Criminology will also be included.
Individual Rights and the Public’s Protection
I believe that the ability to balance rights of separate individuals with the protection of the general public is one of the key issues involved in the daily practice of any criminal justice specialist as it often happens that the rights and freedoms of the two parties contradict one another (Kleinfeld, 2017). Unfortunately, there is no universal philosophy that would allow for solving this problem. That is why it seems reasonable to unite several approaches. Thus, my personal philosophy will combine deontology and utilitarianism since I am convinced that the existence of the society as a unity is the basis for the common good. That is why its laws must be prioritized over individual rights.
If the goal is to promote common well-being, protect community members, or restore social order, it is possible for a criminal justice professional to use his/her power to limit individual freedoms. However, if it is not clear from the case, whether the decision to do so will indeed lead to considerable improvements in the quality of life of the society as a whole, I prefer using the utilitarian approach.
This implies that the pros and cons of each option must be weighed to assess what positive and negative consequences my decision may trigger. For instance, if it is clear that the actions of a particular individual may potentially lead to public unrest and make it easier for terrorists to use the situation for their benefit, I will be forced to request this person to quit his/her activities for the good of the public. Yet, if these assumptions are not evidenced, I cannot limit the freedoms of the individual.
Reward and Punishment
There are two major views on reward in criminal justice. Utilitarian philosophy states that rewards must be based on the results, while the justice approach requires rewarding efforts, too. As far as punishment is concerned, there are utilitarian (serving as a deterrent for potential criminals), retributive (given for the crime committed), and restitution (aimed to provide compensation to victims) types of it (Kleinfeld, 2017).
Same as in the previous section, I am convinced that it is not sufficient to use only one approach for all, as there are numerous factors that may affect the decision in each individual case. For example, sometimes, it is reasonable to award results as the best success indicators; however, it may also happen that a person fails to achieve them due to some emergency situations, which makes it logical to award the effort. The same rule works with punishment. Although I tend to prioritize the utilitarian approach, in some cases (e.g., child molestation and murder), it is more important to provide compensation to the victim’s relatives.
Immoral Means to Accomplish Desirable Ends
This is the issue is frequently referred to as the so-called Dirty Harry problem and arises when it becomes impossible for a justice professional to resolve the problem using exclusively moral means. For instance, in order to stop offenders, it may be required to resort to lying or bribing (Fekjær, Petersson, & Thomassen, 2014). Although it can be said that the goal justifies the means, such methods still place professionals on equal footing with criminals, which is a doubtful achievement.
Still, I believe that there are some circumstances in which this course of action is admissible. For example, when failing to achieve good ends may bring about deplorable consequences. In this case, it would be immoral to miss the opportunity to save people’s lives. Where there is no other option that would allow achieving the same results, it is the duty of a justice professional to make use of every opportunity.
Thus, I will again combine utilitarian and deontological principles if I encounter this problem in my career. Being generally against such means, I will allow exceptions when human lives are at stake (e.g., using forbidden methods of interrogation to find out where hostages are kept).
Ethics in Decision Making
The Ethics of Care and Peacemaking Criminology provides key theories of normative ethics (deontology, virtue, justice, and utilitarian ethics), which serves as a background for the decision making process in criminal justice.
In order to increase the effectiveness of decision making, it is recommended to combine principles suggested by each framework. For instance, such deontological milestones as protection of common welfare and the primacy of law can be applied together with utilitarian principles of reward and punishment and the use of immoral means in some situations (Bradford, 2014).
Bradford, B. (2014). Policing and social identity: Procedural justice, inclusion, and cooperation between police and the public. Policing and Society, 24(1), 22-43.
Fekjær, S. B., Petersson, O., & Thomassen, G. (2014). From legalist to Dirty Harry: Police recruits’ attitudes towards non-legalistic police practice. European Journal of Criminology, 11(6), 745-759.
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Kleinfeld, J. (2017). Three principles of democratic criminal justice. Northwestern University Law Review, 111(6), 1455-1490.