The ethics of caring for the wellbeing of prisoners can be complicated. The low social status of prisoners means that they are marginalized and excluded from the mainstream of society. They experience stigma and discrimination behind bars and are often regarded as “unworthy” in the general community. (Related Stigma and Discrimination Prisoners, p.1). This is a descriptive example of the way that prisoners may feel while they are incarcerated. The problem does not lie within the fact that the prisoners are incarcerated, but instead within the unethical treatment and abuse that can occur at the hands of their caretakers; the corrections officer.
The corrections officer has a difficult job to do. There has never been a question about the stress associated with caring for individuals who have tremendous animosity towards you. Correctional officers are expected to maintain a professional demeanor at all times. They are expected to be respectful and impartial towards the prisoners and their co-workers. They are expected to be good role models for others in their presence. This is of course regardless of their personal beliefs about others or situations that may occur. (Ethics in Criminal Justice, P. 318-320)
Within the prison system there is a division of power that exists. The power, in which the correctional officers exert over the prisoners, can leave feelings of powerlessness and dependency in the prisoners. The officers can abuse the power that they posses to psychologically harm the prisoners. The officers may cause the prisoners to believe that they are unable to do anything without the officers’ permission or help. This can lead to unethical acts when the officer deliberately uses the prisoner to suit their needs. An example of this is reciprocity. Reciprocity is when an officer becomes overly dependant on an inmate(s) to complete tasks that the guard should be handling. This may be a task such as managing the tier. In exchange for this service, the officer may choose to look the other way at some of the infractions from that particular prisoner. (Ethics in Criminal Justice, p. 322)
The problem with becoming too involved with an inmate is that long term consequences that may occur. This means that officers should not become too friendly with an inmate. This behavior is also seen as unethical. In the text, Ethics in Criminal Justice it states that “Officers who are too close to the inmates are not to be trusted.”(p.323). This can be as toxic as those officers who make the prisoners life a nightmare. There needs to be a fine line that is not crossed by either side. The authority has the upper hand, but the prisoners are people and deserved to be treated as such. There is nothing wrong with being friendly with the inmates, but you can never trust them.”(Ethics in Criminal Justice, p. 323)
The reverse side to this ethical matter is the mistreatment that can occur. The officer holds the power over the prisoners head. The officer can use their power to humiliate, and degrade the prisoner. This may include physical and verbal abuse. It can also be actions such as destruction of the prisoner’s property. (Ethics in Criminal Justice, p.322-323)
There is a quote by Abraham Lincoln that is simple but makes a lot of sense when applied to the human conscience. “When I do good, I feel good: When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion. (Wisdomquotes.com) This is common sense about the ethical treatment of people. Even though society looks down upon those who reside inside the prison walls, prisoners are people also. They deserve the chance to repent for their mistakes and not be treated in a cruel or unusual manner while trying to do so. There is no easy answer as how to fix the problem of unethical behavior but there is no reason to stop trying either. People are a product of all that they have encountered good and bad. For this very reason we must take into consideration that it takes numerous positive experiences to correct one negative experience.
- Lewis, J.J (2004) Ethics Quotes Retrieved from the web on May 14, 2005, www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_ethics.html National AIDS Trust (February 2003) HIV- Related Stigma and Discrimination: Prisoners Retrieved from the web May 13, 2005 @ www.areyouhivprejudiced.org/res/pdf/04.5.pdf Pollock, J.M. (2004). Ethics in Criminal Justice: Dilemmas and Decisions. (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson/Wadsworth