Ethical Issues in the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system in the United States is founded on a changing ideology of criminal conduct, reformation, and fairness. This perspective, in essence, is founded on ethics, which establishes the guiding values for law and criminology processes. Public trust is essential for criminal justice professionals to conduct their jobs properly. However, ethical issues still occur during various stages of law enforcement, such as initial offender arrest, criminal justice proceedings, and an offender’s incarceration. In the first scenario, excessive use of force may lead to injury or fatality. In the second case, a judge may encounter influence to penalize a public figure convicted of a crime leniently due to the person’s status. In the last instance, a correctional officer may solicit a bribe from an offender in exchange for placement in their desired cell. These ethical issues may contribute to public distrust of the criminal justice system and hinder law enforcement and public collaboration.

The federal government has acknowledged that inequality exists throughout the juvenile justice system. This can be traced back to the revision of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act by Congress in1988 to compel states receiving formula funding to address the unequal detention of minority adolescents in guarded institutions (McCarter & Durant, 2022). This is evident throughout the juvenile justice system. In reality, there are racial and ethnic inequities in juvenile justice at all processing levels, which are exacerbated as a juvenile gets farther and further into the institution. For example, African American adolescents account for 32% of all juvenile detentions, 36% of juvenile court proceedings, and 40% of all jailed youth in the United States (Orts, 2020). In addition, black adolescents are four times more frequently than white youths to be imprisoned or confined in juvenile institutions and more likely to face an adult jail term (Sheet, 2017). Thus, racial and ethnic inequities in the justice system have been long-standing and well-documented.

Although racial bias in jury shortlisting is pervasive across the criminal justice system, it negatively impacts capital cases. In circumstances where the death sentence is a potential consequence, the lack of significant inclusion on juries affects verdicts, reducing their reliability and credibility. Studies reveal that less diverse juries convict and condemn African American offenders to death at considerably higher proportions than white offenders (Rose & Rountree, 2022). Additionally, White juries are highly unlikely to take into account crucial mitigating evidence favoring a prison life term for African American defendants as opposed to capital punishment (Rose & Rountree, 2022). To remedy the situation, courts and lawmakers must eliminate technical hurdles to adjudicating jury bias allegations. Moreover, procedures and practices to ensure juries are completely represented should be developed. Furthermore, those responsible for racially biased jury screening methods must be held accountable. Lastly, the burden of scrutiny for charges of jury unfairness must be tightened.

The Model Code of Judicial Conduct defines ethical practice guidelines for court officials. According to the American Bar Association (20202), these principles should be implemented following legal provisions, ordinances, and court rules and in all pertinent situations. Every judicial officer has a unique and cherished role that must be safeguarded in both professional and personal life to prevent dishonor to the criminal justice system. Impartiality is necessary for the efficient performance of judicial duties. It pertains not just to the judgment but equally to the decision-making process (American Bar Association, 20202). A bias during the execution of this job can result in severe injustices, such as the wrongful execution of an innocent defendant. A court official must contribute to the establishment, maintenance, and enforcement of professional levels of judicial practice. The requirements of this code are meant to maintain the court system’s independence and integrity. Therefore, the Model Code of Judicial Conduct should be interpreted and used to achieve these goals. In this regard, all court officers must conform to this code carefully and thoroughly.

Prison personnel is wholly accountable for imparting prison policies and correctional ethos. Against this backdrop, research has shown that jails, where officers exert their power more legitimately and equitably or rely mostly on their abilities and knowledge, have decreased violent rates and nonviolent code breaches (Steiner & Wooldredge, 2018). In facilities where police relied heavily on the force, nonviolent offenses were more prevalent (Steiner & Wooldredge, 2018). Prisons, where officers misuse their powers, have a bad prison guard subculture.

The most common prison guard subculture is “do not be a snitch.” This is, in several ways, borrowed from the prisoner subculture and occurs in two prohibited forms. First, guards must never provide convicts with the knowledge they may exploit to cause problems for another official (Hanser, 2019). Guards are typically prohibited from discussing other personnel, their operations, or their private lives with convicts. According to Hanser (2019), the second ban relates to the jail system investigating authority. Guards should maintain silence and not provide anything that would destroy a colleague, especially during incident investigations.

This is possibly among the most challenging beliefs since it places prison guards in situations where they have deceived to protect their colleagues, regardless if they were non-participants in the issue. This may happen throughout investigations and when officials are sued in court (Hanser, 2019). To keep the confidence of their colleagues while maintaining their compliance with institutional regulations, officers must be prepared to “cover” for a colleague in potentially troublesome situations.


American Bar Association. & Center for Professional Responsibility. (2020). Model code of judicial conduct. American Bar Association.

Hanser, R. D. (2019). A Brief Introduction to Corrections. SAGE Publications.

McCarter, S., & Durant, T. (2022). Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) to Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) in Juvenile Justice: What does it mean and does it Matter? Journal of Forensic Social Work, 6(1), 57–76. Web.

Orts, K. (2020). Racial and Ethnic Disparities across the Juvenile Justice System. Web.

Rose, M. R., & Rountree, M. M. (2022). The focal concerns of jurors evaluating mitigation: Evidence from federal capital jury forms. Law & Society Review, 56(2), 213-236. Web.

Sheet, F. (2017). Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration. Montana, 113(1,485), 13-14. Web.

Steiner, B., & Wooldredge, J. (2018). Prison officer legitimacy, their exercise of power, and inmate rule breaking. Criminology, 56(4), 750-779. Web.

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1. LawBirdie. "Ethical Issues in the Criminal Justice System." September 24, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Ethical Issues in the Criminal Justice System." September 24, 2023.