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Ethics in Corrections:
What does
it mean?

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illustration of man standing with his arms in a shrug and question marks above his head.Ethics
in Corrections: What does it mean?

By Billy Humphrey

What does it mean when we talk about “Ethics in Corrections”? In order for us to truly understand, we must actually know what the individual terms mean in this particular phrase.
Ethics is a philosophy that provides for the study of that which is right and wrong, good and bad. Ethics in Corrections focuses primarily on two broad areas: human thoughts and treatment of people. It is a branch of philosophy that addresses matters of principle, which is something we spend our entire lives learning about. As soon as we are old enough to understand, we begin learning about right and wrong. This process continues in every arena of our lives for as long as we exist.

Corrections very simply refers to a process whereby we facilitate positive change in a controlled environment. We attempt to provide structure and order while simultaneously changing the character of people. Our interventions are designed to teach, discipline, and alter the way people think. The mission of corrections is based on the fundamental assumptions that we possess free will, our thoughts control our behavior, and people can change. It is important we accept these premises as the truth, and that we understand our objectives. The mission statement for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice focuses on public safety, positive change, reintegration, and victim’s services. In order for us as a body of people to be successful with all of these responsibilities, we must make a conscious effort to be correct within ourselves. This is not to suggest that we as custodial personnel should be weak or passive during the performance of our duties. It simply means we should be right and good in all that we do.

There are many areas within adult corrections which necessarily cause us to rely on the proper use of discretion and character. Management of an offender population is not only difficult, but it can also be extremely dangerous. Ethics in Corrections is about public safety and self-control. It means that we consciously are aware of the professional obligation to maintain our composure in all situations. It is never allowing our emotions to interfere with our performance and understanding that there is a difference between a response and a reaction. Ethics in Corrections compels us to utilize discretion appropriately so that we always choose a legitimate course of action, which is readily available regardless of the specific circumstances.

Effective management of human resources can be rewarding, and somewhat challenging. Ethics in Corrections is about offering basic respect to all people. It is developing relationships while we embrace and appreciate individual differences. It is about rising above stereotypes from the past, which can allow gender, race, age, and other factors to unnecessarily interfere with our judgment. It is about decency, common courtesy, and accountability, which are always necessary for us to achieve our goals and maintain healthy relationships with people. Ethics in Corrections requires that we embrace universal values like the “Golden Rule” and incorporate these fundamental principles into our management practices. There is never an excuse for rude behavior! This is relevant even during those confrontational situations which are occasionally inevitable once a person is a member of the supervisory component. Ethics is about understanding the difference between coercion and influence. It is about utilizing coercive power and traditional authority gracefully – only when necessary and always as a last resort. Ethics in Corrections is about positive cultural change that is facilitated by effective leadership. We understand culture to mean the values or basic assumptions that members of a society or organization hold about how one ought to think and behave. We define leadership as the art of influencing others to willingly pursue common objectives. The sign displayed at the Eastham swimming pool says it best, “There is no substitute for effective supervision.” Ethics in Corrections is about members of the supervisory component understanding and agreeing that respect is the key to success. It is realizing that effective leadership brings people together and utilizes influence to prevent negative outcomes. Regardless of whether a person is a member of the line staff or the CEO of this organization, their success is not determined by their status within the agency. The success of any individual is determined by whether or not others hold them in high regard. There is nothing more important than respect.

Ethics in corrections requires all of us to be an example within our prison communities each and everyday. We must be correct in everything we do and all that we say. We should never be dishonest, egotistical, abusive, or vulgar. We must act in good faith and utilize our authority judiciously as we provide services to the public who have placed their trust in us all. We must be good at what we do, and we must also be good. This is “True Professionalism” and the relentless pursuit of ethics in corrections.

I salute all the fine men and women in the field who have chosen one of the most challenging careers known to mankind. It is extremely difficult, but it is a noble cause. Be proud of what you do for a living, and do whatever you can to keep each other safe.

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