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Thursday, January 22, 2015

“The Book” is Not Enough: Personal Ethics as a Community Corrections Officer

“The Book” is Not Enough: Personal Ethics as a Community Corrections Officer

This paper will examine a fictional relationship between an parole officer and the wife of a parolee. Ken, the parole officer, participated in a personal relationship with Lisa, the wife of a parolee, that led to Ken's dismissal from his job and possible charges against him. Using the guidelines of utilitarian theory, we can look at Ken's actions in comparison to what the community expects of a community corrections officer. In particular, we will look at the following questions: Was Ken violating a personal or professional code of ethics when he first agreed to help Lisa? Did Ken allow his desire to be helpful make him vulnerable to an elaborate con by Lisa and Larry, her convict husband, or did he have his own unethical agenda? Is it possible that this was an elaborate con from the beginning and if so was it most likely set up by Lisa or her husband or both? Was Ken acting in good faith trying to help the wife of what was to be a new parolee and things got out of hand?
Let us begin with defining the purposes of community corrections in a utilitarian role. What is the mission of probation and parole? Whitehead contends that “officers are supposed to provide services to offenders while also monitoring them so that the community is protected from new crimes”(Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2010, p.218). We can see the value to society in keeping marginal offenders from becoming chronic offenders. “From a utilitarian point of view, any punishment that is metted out must not make things worse but must help to rectify the situation.”(White & Tomkins, 2003, p2.) A win-win for everyone is the definition of a utilitarian success. However, efficiency in this mission requires ethical responsibility.
At the very beginning of his relationship, Ken was fulfilling his duty as a parole officer. These duties have been summarized as the following:
1-Serve the community.
2-Safeguard the lives and property within the jurisdiction.
3-Protect against deception, oppression, or intimidation.
4-Prevent violence or disorder.
5-Respect and preserve the constitutional rights of all.
( South University Online, 2010, para. 6 )
By helping Lisa with questions about her husband's situation. Ken was respecting and preserving the husband's rights as well as serving the community (of which Lisa is a part) by keeping her informed of the legal situation. However, by accepting Lisa's invitation for a more personal meeting, Ken opened the door to potential intimidation and oppression of Lisa and her husband through the power of his office. He also exposed himself to the potential to experience some of the specific pains noted by the hedonistic calculus; “The pains of enmity” of the legal system, “The pains of an ill name”, from the shame of unethical behavior, “The pains of privation” from losing his job (Bentham, 1781, para. 3). Ken then moved from the potential (certainty) of painful consequences of a personal meeting to an actual unethical act by having sex with Lisa, which increased the certainty of painful consequences., and subjected himself to blackmail from Lisa.
Ken arranged for Larry to become part of his caseload; in itself, this is not unethical. However, due to the sexual relation, this act was unethical, as it raises the potential for abuse. Ken allowed Larry to be late for meetings ( a violation of the parole agreement), and this could easily be seen as a result of favoritism, even if it was just a case of mercy. Ken then begins to blackmail Lisa for sex, an unquestionably ethical violation. Finally, as Larry knows he can ignore his terms of parole, he begins to commit crime again and is caught. This leads to Lisa turning in Ken after Ken can not get Larry out of the situation.; a situation that may had been prevented if Ken was monitoring Larry instead of pursuing Larry's wife. Throughout the sexual relationship, we have seen Ken fail to “serve the community”, we have seen him use intimidation instead of protecting against it, we have seen him contribute to disorder through his failure to monitor Larry, and seen him disregard both Larry and Lisa's constitutional rights.
The two questions asked regarding the possibility of a con run against Ken have the same answer. In either case, the point is moot. Had Ken acted ethically in declining Lisa's drink offer, he does not expose himself to any level of certainty of extortion or favor seeking. In the case as to whether he had his own unethical agenda, we can not know, but we do know that he continued to act unethically inn the course of the physical relationship with Lisa, so the assumption that he did have such an agenda, or that he developed one after the sexual relation began, is a valid one. “Effective and efficient working relationships are premised upon all members of an organization bearing some responsibility for the operation of that organisation” (White & Tomkins, 2003, p5.) Ken abandons that responsibility when he chooses to to have sex with Lisa; from a utilitarian judgment of Ken's effectiveness, it doesn't matter if he is intimidating Lisa or if Lisa is blackmailing him; the consequences of his failure to do his job are the same to the community.
There are three losers in this situation; the community that Ken betrayed, the family unit of Larry and Lisa, and Ken himself. The community loses by losing not only an officer of the system, but by the loss of faith in the system; “Correctional Officers shall refrain from any conduct in an official capacity that detracts from the public's faith in the integrity of the criminal justice system.”(Florida Department of Law Enforcement, n.d., para. 10). In addition, the community had the potential of adding one more victim to the crime reports had Larry been a violent offender. Larry and Lisa lose as Larry returns to prison because Ken was not acting as one of the “efficient monitors of the conditions of supervision.” (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2010, p. 218) And Ken himself loses, as the potential of the consequence mentioned become fully certain.
To summarize this case, we can review the chain of events. Ken meets Lisa in the course of his duty. He assists her professionally and ethically. From that point, he meets her on a personal basis. This is unethical due to the potentially negative consequences the situations presents. He begins to have sexual relations with her, which is an ethical violation of several mores, and increases the potential for negative consequences. Ken arranges for Larry, Lisa's husband, to be supervised under his office, again increasing the potentially negative consequences. In the course of Ken's supervision of Larry, Ken neglects the responsibility of monitoring Larry's behavior correctly, raising the potential of negative consequences for Larry and for the community. In addition, Ken abuses the authority of his office to intimidate Lisa into further sexual relations, an unarguable ethical violation. Finally, because Ken has failed to do his duty to monitor Larry properly, Larry re-offends and is caught doing so. The results of this event cause Lisa to report Ken, and all the negative potentials come crashing down on Ken, fully realized. It does not matter if Lisa was setting Ken up or not, because it was Ken's failure to behave morally that caused the entire situation. It does not matter if Ken's office had a formalized code of conduct prohibiting personal contact with clients or probable clients. Ken undertook a relationship with the clear potential ( a measure of certainty, and a value in the hedonistic calculus) of negative consequences for himself, for his client, and for the community. Ken failed in his duty as a parole officer because he failed to behave ethically, part of that failure was by starting down a path of dubious morality and not recognizing the potential dangers of doing such.


Bentham, J. (1781). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. Retrieved May 18, 2014 from http://www.utilitarianism.com/jeremy-bentham/index.html#five

Braswell, M., McCarthy, B., & McCarthy, B. (2010). Justice, Crime, and Ethics [VitalSouce bookshelf version]. Retrieved from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/books/9781437734850

Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (n.d) Correctional officer ethical standards of conduct . Retreived June 8, 2014 from http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/CJST/Menu/Officer-Requirements-Main-Page/CO-Ethical-Standards-of-Conduct.aspx

South University Online. (2014). MCJ5003 : Ethics & Moral Behavior in Criminal Justice System : Week 4: Case Analysis For Assignment 2: The Philandering Parole Officer . Retrieved June 8, 2014 from myeclassonline.com

White, R. & Tompkins, K (2003, March) Issues in community corrections. Criminology Reaearch Unit, University of Tasmania. Retreived June 8, 2014 from http://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/193412/Briefing_Paper_2_Issues_in_Community_Corrections.pdf

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