Ethical Dilemmas in Corrections

Ethics refers to the study of various patterns of morality that exist amongst conducts of individuals within social structures. Ethics involves an analysis of how people behave with regard to personal and social values, beliefs and practices. According to Sherif (2007) and Henry (2009), people usually make ethical decisions by seeking to behave in more moral and upright manners. Thus, ethics involves determining what is good or bad. Ethical dilemmas arise when individuals become undecided about what to do when faced with life challenges.

Ethical Dilemmas in Corrections

According to Freeman (2010), corrections profession is one of the trickiest and most challenging careers in existence today. Correctional officers in prisons regularly face ethical dilemmas. The correctional environment is highly demanding and exigent. For instance, correctional officers have to deal with violent, obstinate and recalcitrant criminals locked up in prisons and penitentiaries. A correctional officer may be faced with an ethical dilemma when he or she does not know precise courses of actions to be taken in the process of administering duties and facing challenges.. Ethical dilemmas may also be the result of difficulties connected with the challenging question on what course of actions would be right.

Cases of Ethical Dilemmas Confronted by Correctional Officers in the Performance of their Duties

For my part, abuse of inmates, improper sexual relationships with inmates, smuggling of goods, financial crimes and investigative disobediences are the major areas in which correctional officers face ethical dilemmas.

Improper Sexual Relationships with Inmates

In the recent years, several correctional officers have been indicted and accused of having inappropriate sexual relationships with inmates, especially sexual assaults. According to Martin (2008), cases of sexual assaults of inmates by correctional officers are prevalent in prisons that have high number of female inmates. Jones and Carlson (2010) also affirm that sexual misconduct is one of the most common ethical issues faced by correctional officers. Most sexual assaults are usually committed by male correctional officers on female prisoners. In my opinion, increase in sexual assaults within correctional facilities was fuelled by increased shortage of staff in these institutions, for example, one correctional officer might be forced to supervise more than one hundred inmates. This increases the temptation of male correctional officers to commit sexual assaults against female inmates whom they supervision. An investigation conducted by General Accounting Office (GAO) in four major correctional institutions in the United States between 2005 and  2009 reported five hundred and six allegations of sexual misconducts committed by male correctional officers (Sutty, 2010). Another research study, conducted by a human rights organization called Stop Prison Rape (SPR) at Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW), reported extensive allegations of sexual abuse on female inmates by correctional officers (Stop Prison Rape, 2003). Correctional officers are fond of alluring and enticing inmates for sexual favors, for example, by trading goods for sex with inmates.

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Abuse of Inmates

Correctional officers usually abuse inmates in a variety of ways. The abuses may be either physical, such as hitting and controversial shootings, or non-physical, such as abuse of rights of prisoners and issuing threats for failures to submit to selfish requests like sexual advances. Similarly, some correctional officers often abuse mentally-ill and disabled inmates.

Smuggling of Goods

 Some correctional officers are usually involved in illegal business practices, for example, by selling foodstuffs to inmates illegally. Correctional officers have also been involved in drug trafficking. For instance, in January 2011, FBI agents arrested a correctional officer in New York for conspiring to sell drugs to inmates (Allen & Bosta, 2011).

Financial Crimes

Correctional officers are often involved in questionable monetary dealings within prisons. For example, correctional and probation officers who are responsible for collecting various fines, fees and monies from offenders they investigate or supervise may fail to submit such collections to the relevant finance officers in the institutions. The correctional officers are usually tempted to use part of the collected money. This depicts unethical conduct and lack of truthfulness amongst correctional officers.

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Investigative Disobediences

Correctional officers sometimes violate their investigative authorities by conducting unreliable investigations at correctional institutions. For example, an officer may manipulate or fail to submit the factual findings of an investigation about an inmate related to him or her in order to save the inmate from harsh judgments. Such violations often provide correctional officers with ethical dilemmas. The falsification and misrepresentation of investigative reports by correctional officers is ethically wrong.


Corruption refers to illegal acts of obtaining or seeking favors for both material and non-material benefits. Corruption acts amongst correctional officers include theft of properties and misuse of authority at the workplace. Corruption in correctional institutions is associated with high stress levels amongst officers, low morale and lack of motivation and job satisfaction (Cornelius, 2010). Sutty (2010) also reported that correctional officers sometimes illegally release prisoners without permission from relevant authorities.

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Preventive Measures that Supervisory Corrections Officers can put in place to lessen Correctional Officers’ exposure to Ethical Dilemmas

In my opinion, some of the preventive measures that can be taken by Supervisory Corrections Officers to reduce the exposure of correctional officers to ethical dilemmas include conducting thorough investigations through strong internal investigative bodies that act independently, provision of highly-specialized trainings to officers, ensuring that no sexual relationships exist between correctional officers and inmates, and ensuring zero tolerance on unethical practices within the institutions. In my view, highly-specialized trainings would help in instilling professional ethics, values and standards amongst correctional officers. This can be achieved through engagement of specialized training units such as Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and Tactical Apprehension and Control Teams (TACT). According to Freeman (2010), training of correctional officers should be carried out continuously throughout the term of service.

In addition, harsh retaliatory and disciplinary actions such as suspension and termination of employment as a correctional officer should be taken against officers who have been found guilty of ethical misconducts. In my view, such punitive disciplinary actions would help in discouraging officers from engaging in unethical activities. For example, the suspension and dismissal of an officer who was found guilty of defiling and impregnating a twenty-six years old inmate at Franklin Pre-Release Centre disheartened his fellow officers from committing similar offences for nearly ten years.

In addition, the Supervisory Corrections Officers should provide good leadership that encourages ethical practices, for example, by emphasizing on the rights of inmates, prosecuting officers who get involved in unlawful practices and provoke unethical practices.

Last but not the least, Supervisory Corrections Officers should ensure selective recruitment, training and development of prison administrators who get promoted to correctional officers. The officers must also acquire adequate education, for example, they should hold a Masters degree. Strong policies that aim at preventing correctional officers from engaging in unethical practices must also be formulated, for instance, non-deployment of male officers in facilities occupied by female inmates.


In my view, correctional officers should learn how to effectively manage situations that pose ethical dilemmas at their workplaces. The officers should refrain from misconducts that may taint the reputation, image and impression of correctional institutions.

Although the corrections environment may be highly challenging, the officers must uphold ethical values and standards. Thus, correctional officers must display positive behaviors such as fair treatment of inmates, obedience to state laws and wise use of authority and power.

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