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The criminal justice system and the decisions made within this system affect everyone as a whole and therefore should be given considerable thought regarding ethics and morality. If this is not achieved, even the best of intentions can provide for unwanted consequences. There are several different theories in which criminal justice ethical issues can be examined. Utilitarianism, Deontological and the Peacemaking theory are just a few discussed in this paper.
The utilitarianism ethical theory is based on consequences. That is, we deliver consequences based on the results of an action. The morality of an action is based on whether the consequence produced was good or bad. Utilitarian’s believe that consequences should produce a feeling of happiness and pleasure. They calculate the intensity of pleasure or pain and the duration of pleasure or pain. They also consider what the long term effects are and if the outcome will produce the consequences intended. Once all this has been considered, the morality of the consequence is based on the greatest number of people who stand to gain the greatest amount of pleasure. I do not agree with this theory because it is too simple. Its simplicity creates many concerns. First, it is difficult to judge an action before it occurs because the outcome of an action is not always clear and it is not always possible to determine who it will affect. Second, the time needed to fairly calculate the consequence is not always available or possible. Third, the greater good is determined by the greatest number and may be achieved by harming the few. It fails to consider the individual rights of a person or the few. Harm is okay as long as the greater good fulfilled. So I believe that the Utilitarianism theory could allow an innocent person to be harmed as long as it served the greater good.
Deontological ethics argues that a person has a “duty to perform certain actions regardless of the consequences.” (Braswell, McCarthy, McCarthy) The right or duty is second to the greater good and the consequences of an action are irrelevant. So, when analyzing an ethical dilemma, a person should consider their obligation and duties. The Deontological theory believes the key to morality is human will. Although this theory provides several positive attributes, it does have it problems. First, there is no “gray area.” An action is either right or wrong, pass or fail, good or evil. Second, there is no system for solving the moral dilemmas created when duties come in conflict. For example, a duty may require I perform physically incompatible actions. It would be considered morally wrong if I failed to perform my duty even though it was not physically possible. Not only does it not provide for conflicting duties, it does provide for a clear, ethical understanding of the resolution. Therefore, it does not protect others from its duties. For example; it is my duty to get to work on time but I am running late, does that mean I am allowed to speed, run red lights and drive recklessly so that I can arrive at work on time? This scenario shows that there is no guidance when a complex issue arises with conflicting obligations. It is because there is no “gray area” in the Deontological theory, that I can not support this theory.
The Peacemaking theory can be achieved in three themes; connectedness, caring and mindfulness. First, connectedness suggests that everybody and everything is connected in some way. It is believed that because we are all connected, so are our actions. As a result, our actions all come back to each other whether or not we see the connection. “What goes around comes around.” (Braswell, McCarthy, McCarthy) Second, ethical caring is believed to be grounded in natural caring. Justification and argument are considered masculine approaches and the feminists approach can be found in maternal ethics. However, the ethics of care should be considered the social responsibility of both women and men. Mindfulness helps us to see the big picture while allowing us to be fully present. It allows us to be more aware of our thoughts and actions. It can help us develop a sense of compassion for others and their needs. Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation. It is believed that when you’re peaceful through connectedness, caring and mindfulness, you will become more moral and ethical. I believe in this principal. Our ethics and morals are a part of us and what we believe in. Peacemaking can be achieved by changing ourselves, “then others by our example, and finally our system of justice-from the inside out.” (Braswell, McCarthy, McCarthy)
The theory that I most support is driven by my values. My values are trust, honesty, responsibility and integrity. I have developed these values through life experience. My father, a wonderful man, worked two jobs to support us and therefore, he was rarely home. However, he had wonderful Christian values which formed the foundation for the values I have today. My mother and I never really connected and as a result, I stopped coming home on a daily basis. The values I developed in my younger years were based more on survival and just making it day to day. If I would have continued living the values I believed in as a child, I would have wound up in jail or worse.
` Throughout my 47 years, my values have changed as I have changed. Even though my values may have changed from time to time, I have learned that trust is the foundation for all values. If you do not have trust, you can not build a relationship. This is true with your friends, coworkers, children and spouses. I find it difficult to find truth, integrity or responsibility without trust.
As a 4 year survivor of domestic violence, it is easy to see why trust would be my number one value. Not only was it an issue during my relationship with my ex, it was an issue with my children once we were alone. I spent many years trying to prove I was trustworthy to my ex, much to my defeat. Although the circumstances were different, the foundation was the same. There was no trust, whether justified or not, therefore there could be no truth, integrity or responsibility.
During our relationship, my children heard me say time and time again “It’s over. I will never allow him in our home again, I promise” just to see him back in our house again. Since trust can not be built on lies, they no longer saw me as trustworthy let alone honest, responsible and full of integrity. I had to prove myself by trying to rebuild the foundation of trust that was lost during their young lives. Once trust has been established, I believe honesty; responsibility and integrity go hand in hand. If any of these values are misused, taken advantage of or broken, then the foundation of “trust” is gone as well.
Trust is also important in our everyday lives. In school, the teacher trusts that we will do our homework, study and come prepared for the day’s lesson. They trust us to present our own work and not copy or cheat from others. At work, our employer trusts that we will show up on time, perform our duties and respect our co-workers. They trust that we will not steal from them, destroy their property and that we would present ourselves in such a manner that would reflect well on the company.
I am sure it will come as no surprise when I say my goal is to counsel victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence. I think that my childhood experience as well as the experiences I survived as an adult will allow me to provide insight to a client. A domestic violence victim faces two different aspects towards the road to recovery; legally and emotionally. Legally, I learned how to develop a safety plan, file a police report and file for an order of protection. However, emotional recovery as a result of domestic violence can take years and trust is an important part of the recovery. The victim must trust the criminal justice system to protect them and provide a sense of security. They must also trust their counselor. They need a counselor that is empathetic and nonjudgmental. They have to trust that the counselor will be supportive without taking control and help them gain the courage needed to reach their full potential and goals. The counselor must help them rebuild their trust so that they can feel safe again.
My values and beliefs are a direct result of my recovery from domestic violence and therefore I believe they are exactly what are needed to become a successful domestic violence counselor. Victims experience symptoms similar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) They feel hopeless, helpless, and experience fear and anxiety. I believe that recovery can only be achieved through trust, honesty, responsibility and integrity. Since I believe that trust is the foundation for my other values and beliefs, it is no surprise that a domestic violence victims trust level is very low. They often just need someone to believe in them and not judge them. They need a counselor that understands, sympathizes and empathizes in everything they have been through. Most important, they need a counselor that will never ask the question “why?” Although I can not speak for every survivor, for myself, that is one question I could never really figure out. Almost everyone during that time frame would ask me “why” and I have pondered that question almost everyday for the past 4 years, not because “everyone” asked me but because my daughter asked me. I could recite the reasons that make sense to people like; money, afraid of being alone, I felt like I deserved it and fear of retaliation if I left, but that would be a lie. Although all of those things existed and may have played a small role in why I stayed, they certainly were not the main reason for staying. Even today, I honestly can not answer that question and I am not sure I will ever be able to. However, I do know that all of my decisions in life are now based on the values and beliefs I learned during my road to recovery and that recovery began when I learned to trust.