The Correctional Officer Subculture & Ethics

by Elizabeth (Lisa)Thompson - Updated September 26, 2017
Correctional officers often face conflicts between ethics and the subculture.

Correctional officers are often caught in a tug-of-war between ethical issues and a subculture that actually determines daily officer behavior. The subculture can lead to questionable practices by officers.

Ethical Violations

Correctional officers tend to be involved in specific types of ethical violations, says Austin Peay State University Criminal Justice program manager Tom O'Connor. Diana McCool, Louisiana Training Academy Director of the National Institute of Corrections, cites the following examples of ethical violations: inmate abuse, inappropriate or sexual relationships with inmates, questionable monetary dealings, personal misconduct and smuggling contraband.

Typical Subculture Views

Correctional officers with questionable ethics may allow certain views of the subculture affect how they approach their job, O'Connor says. The Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that unethical behaviors include officers banding together and considering all others as "the enemy" and the idea that violence against prisoners is acceptable.

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Effects of Unethical Behavior

According to McCool, unethical behavior can directly impact correctional officers' working conditions and outside perceptions. As a result, this may reduce the confidence of the community to protect the public, threaten institution security and pit inmates against staff and even supervisors against staff.

Officer Types

Correctional officers demonstrate several personality types at work. ranging from ethical or successful to apathetic or even compromising. A 2001 Bureau of Prisons study indicated that 402 officers were investigated for compromising situations.

Correct Ethical Behaviors

Correctional officers and inmates alike agree that officers who are respected exhibit the positive behaviors such as treating prisoners fairly, using discretion, using force wisely and following the "spirit of the law."

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