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Ethics in Criminal Justice Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2021

There have always been crimes, and this part of the everyday life and criminal justice system will go nowhere. Despite numerous research projects in the area and various adjustments made to the area of criminal justice, punishment measures still remain to be perceived as one of the aspects of ethical dilemmas that have to be investigated by policy-makers (Chapman & Davis, 1978). The morality of punishing people for their actions will always be a topic that is worth discussion because, in the majority of the cases, no one has the ability to view the issue from a number of different perspectives. The relative level of subjectivity that is inherent in any given criminal justice system is one of the core limitations of punishment. In other words, innocent individuals may be punished for something they did not do, while the guilty ones may remain untouched according to the verdict that was reached in court.

Retributivism is the core philosophical theory that is directly associated with criminal justice and fully supports punishment. This theory also validates the existence of punishment institutions and answers a number of other important questions. For the adepts of this theory, punishment is an inextricable part of the criminal justice process because criminals must (and deserve to) be punished. The meaning of “deserve” here revolves around the moral blameworthiness of the criminal, not the desire of a criminal justice system to punish someone merely for the record (Roh, 2003). The theory of retributivism justifies punishment because the wrongdoer has to experience the sanctions imposed by the government after they broke the law. Retributivists also believe that it is the duty of the government to punish criminals and not an authoritarian privilege. Even if the victims of these criminals wish mercy upon the latter, retributivism denies it.

The theory that is different from what retributivism has to offer but still relies on some of its concepts is called the categorical imperative. The reason why this philosophical theory can be opposed to retributivism as a whole is the respect for humanity that is inherent in the categorical imperative concept (Chapman & Davis, 1978). Consequently, when it comes to punishing the offender, representatives of the criminal justice system are commonly able to evaluate the issue from different perspectives in order to come up with the least biased decision. The theory of categorical imperative is based on the concept of ideal behavior, but Kant does not imply that any given individual is able to act morally at all times. On the other hand, he explicitly claims that certain moral decisions involving dilemmas should be made on the basis of the person’s individual outlooks while being in line with common sense.

One of the best alternatives to punishing offenders is crime prevention. For the most part, this supposition is based on the idea that it will be easier to evaluate the current state of affairs and take certain measures than to wait for the crimes to happen and then develop a crime mitigation plan (Banks, 2016). Another option that is available to the criminal justice system representatives is deterrence. Sometimes, this alternative has a much better impact on wrongdoers than its authority-based counterparts because of the strictness that is inherent in this approach to criminal justice. Communities that are exposed to deterrence are known to showcase law-abiding behavior at all times.


Banks, C. (2016). Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chapman, M. L., & Davis, F. V. (1978). Skills for ethical action: A process to judgment and action. Educational Leadership, 35(6), 457-461.

Roh, Y. R. (2003). An extended conception of rationality and moral actions. Journal of Value Inquiry, 37(1), 35-49. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Ethics in Criminal Justice." May 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ethics-in-criminal-justice/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Ethics in Criminal Justice." May 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ethics-in-criminal-justice/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Ethics in Criminal Justice'. 25 May.

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