Administration of Justice 250 Unit 9:
Ethics for Correctional Professionals

Unit Objectives:

At the completion of this unit the student will:
1. Become familiar with the ethical issues for correctional officers, treatment professionals, and probation and parole officers.
2. Understand some of the unique ethical issues for correctional managers and administrators.
3. Be able to list and discuss the various types of prison corruption.
4. Compare and contrast the types of discretionary misconduct and give examples of each.

Keeping an Eye on the Keeper:
Prison Corruption and its Control
By Bernard J. McCarthy

Prison corruption has been a problem throughout the history of corrections. Although correctional systems are relatively closed to public view, reports of corrupt practices occurring behind prison walls have, on occasion, reached the general public. In recent years, major prison scandals have been reported throughout the United States. Despite this, we know very little regarding the forms, functions, and impact of corrupt practices in corrections. This deficiency is related to a larger problem in corrections: the failure to examine the impact of staff behavior on the correctional process.

Corrupt practices in prisons range from acts of theft and pilferage to large-scale criminal operations such as drug trafficking. These forms of correctional corruption may involve inmates and employees inside and the general community outside of prison.

The impact of such practices is substantial. Corrupt correctional practices undermine respect for the justice system by both offenders and the general public. Corrupt practices may also lead to a breakdown in the control structure of the correctional organization and to the demoralization of correctional workers in institutions and the community.

The incentives for corrupt behavior are many. From the offender's point of view, they have everything to gain and very little to lose. Corrupt practices also represent a lucrative way for employees to supplement their income.

Defining Corruption in a Correctional Environment
The idea or concept of correctional corruption has often been used to describe a general weakening of the formal goals of the correctional process. Corruption is defined more specifically as the "intentional violation of organizational norms" by employees for personal gain, usually of a material nature. This definition is based in part on a review of corruption literature, particularly in the area of police corruption. Thus, prison corruption occurs when an employee violates organizational rules for his or her own personal material gain.

Certain conditions need to be satisfied before an act can be defined as corrupt. First, the action must involve individuals who are employees. Second, the offense must violate the formal rules of the organization or agency. Third, the offense must involve an employee receiving some specific, personal material gain for his or her misconduct. The importance of a standard definition of corruption is critical in building an information base regarding corrupt practices in corrections and for comparative purposes with other areas of the criminal justice system.

Types of Prison Corruption
Review of prison internal affairs case files identified several types of corrupt conduct: theft, trafficking in contraband, embezzlement, misuse of authority, and a residual or miscellaneous category. Theft generally involved reports of items reported as stolen from inmates and staff members. Trafficking in contraband involved staff members conspiring with inmates and civilians to smuggle contraband, such as drugs or money, into or out of correctional facilities. Acts of embezzlement were defined as converting state property for one's own use or advantage. This offense involved employees stealing money or materials from state accounts and from warehouses.

Misuse of authority involved the intentional misuse of discretion for personal material gain. This type of corruption is comprised of three basic offenses directed against inmates: the acceptance of gratuities or rewards from inmates for special consideration in obtaining normal prison privileges; the acceptance of gratuities for help in obtaining or protecting illicit prison activities (e.g., gambling); and the mistreatment or extortion of inmates by staff for personal material gain.

The Role of Discretion
The different types of corruption involve the misuse or abuse of discretion by correctional staff members. Corruption occurs when staff misuse discretionary power for personal gain. Three forms of discretionary misconduct are misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance.

Misfeasance refers to an improper action which an official may lawfully do. Offenses in this area include the acceptance of gratuities for special privileges or preferential treatment, the selective application of formal rewards and punishments to inmates for money, the sale of paroles or other types of releases, and the use of state resources or property for one's own personal gain.

Malfeasance refers to direct misconduct by a staff member, as opposed to the improper use of legitimate authority. Corrupt practices in this category include primarily criminal acts and include theft, embezzlement, trafficking in contraband and extortion.

Nonfeasance refers to the failure to live up to one's responsibilities or the omission of an act for which one is responsible. The two types of corrupt practices in this area are selectively ignoring inmate violations of institutional or organizational rules, and the failure to report or deter other employees who are involved in corrupt behavior.

Factors Associated With Corruption
Two factors which influence the degree of corruption experienced by a particular governmental agency are (1) the opportunities for corruption, and (2) the level of incentives to make use of those opportunities. A third factor involves politics. Correctional programs are influenced by the political process on all levels, particularly regarding the appointment of administrative staff and the allocation and distribution of resources.

The Role of Opportunities
Opportunities for corruption arise from the discretionary authority given by the legislature to correctional officials. In the prison environment, employees, particularly low-level ones, are responsible for monitoring and controlling virtually all inmate behavior and activities. These officials frequently make low-level discretionary decisions which reward and penalize behavior. These decisions affect the day-to-day existence experienced by inmates.

Special privileges in the form of extra television time, phone calls, job assignments, cell changes, and furloughs may be used to reward positive behavior. Punishments, in the form of withdrawal of privileges, transfers, or various forms of deprivation are used to control inmates.

The manner in which the staff apply these rewards and punishments have both short-term and long-term consequences for inmates. Individuals sentenced to prison experience various levels of deprivation, commonly referred to as pains of imprisonment. Such deprivation affects both the physical and psychological well-being of he inmates. The pains of imprisonment have been described by Sykes as the deprivation of liberty, goods and services, heterosexual relationships, autonomy, and security. In dealing with the "pains" associated with confinement, inmates attempt to soften the psychological and physical impact. One of the means they may utilize is to attempt to corrupt correctional employees as a way of improving the conditions of confinement.

Incentives for Corruption
The incentives for employees to engage in corrupt practices in an institutional setting are many. They may range from structural or organizational characteristics or prison management to individual or personal factors.

Three factors are primarily responsible for undermining the formal control structure of the prison: friendships with inmates, reciprocal relationships, and defaults. Corruption through friendship evolves from the close and constant contact that prisoners and guards share in their daily interactions. Corruption through reciprocity occurs in the sense that "you do something for me and I'll do something for you." Corruption through default occurs when staff members begin to rely on inmates to help them with their work, such as cell checks.

Defects in the prison organization's control apparatus lead staff members to develop informal means of control through the development of various accommodations with inmates. Correctional staff may provide certain inmates with forbidden goods and services that are restricted in return for their help. Power accommodation occurs when selected inmates are provided with access to restricted information, for example, the date and time of an impending shakedown. Status accommodations result when staff provide special deference to certain inmates.

Another factor which impacts on the problem of corruption is the type and quality of persons recruited to work in correctional facilities. Frequently the quality of manpower is uneven because of low pay and poor working conditions. Yet this trend seems to be reversing itself as the pay and working conditions continue to improve.

Controlling Corruption
First, corruption is a regular and traditional feature of governmental processes. The problem of corruption can probably never be completely solved; yet, certain steps may be implemented to control or minimize the problem. First, in dealing with the problem it is necessary to develop an anti-corruption policy. This policy should define and explain what the agency means by corruption, specifying the penalties for it and explaining violating policies. Training should be provided to employees regarding the nature, causes, and impact of corrupt practices. Second, the correctional agency should develop a proactive mechanism to detect, investigate, and intervene with corrupt practices. Internal affairs and the use of routine and special audit procedures on a random basis can help ensure the proper expenditure of funds. Third, the correctional administrator should try to improve his or her management practices.

Management must also take affirmative steps toward reducing the opportunities and incentives for corruption. One way to accomplish this direction is to more effectively structure the use of discretion and make the visibility of low-level decision makers more public as well as more accountable. Internal reform should also include screening of employees in order to improve overall quality. Selection procedures should include psychological testing and formal pre-service training designed to screen out questionable or inappropriate employees.

A final recommendation involves the political environment. A correctional administrator should take steps to insulate their employees from pressures placed on them from external forces such as politics. By requiring merit selection and fairly administered promotion of employees, a correctional administrator reduces the impact of political interference.

In sum, controlling corruption requires a commitment by correctional administrators to improve and upgrade the general correctional environment, particularly the working conditions for staff, to protect employees from political pressures, and to replace the tendency toward complacency, as long as things are quiet, with a concern for accountability.

Using the Internet

American Correction Association American Jail Association California Youth Authority

Reading Assignment:

  • Chapter 10 "Ethics for Correctional Professionals"

    Writing Assignment:

    Task One. The assignment is in the form of an open-book quiz, accessed via the link (below). When completed, all you need do is click the submit button. You will be shown the score achieved. The program will send the results directly to the instructor.

    Click here to Begin Quiz.

    Task Two. If there is an additional assignment the Instructor will notify you.

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    This document Created by D. BALCH, January 1997
    Last Revision: August 2001
    Copyright 1996 DB, Rio Hondo College.
    All rights reserved.