Final Project: Case Study

Ethical dilemmas permeate the criminal justice. At every level, in each segment of the system, people are exercising discretion that will impact on the fate of an individual and/or the security of the community. Incongruous laws, regulations, policies and practices create conflicts and distort the basis upon which judgments are made. Very often these conflicts result in an ethical dilemma. Which is the appropriate course of action? What is the moral/ethical rational for the decisions that were made? What purposes or principles are served? This project will ask you to consider a sequence of decisions (do, or not do) all of which contribute, directly or indirectly the final scene. For each of the four (4) scenarios, your assignment is to:

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1. The Parole Board

As the chair of the parole board, Robert knows the state prisons are critically overcrowded. Advocates are threatening the corrections system with Federal suits. One alternative is to broaden the parole eligibility criteria to allow more inmates to be released to community-based supervision. However, reviewing the current “risk assessment” results, Robert is concerned that any further relaxation of standards may result in the release of inmates more likely to re-offend than he considers “safe”. Robert just received a call from the Governor asking him what the parole board can do to ease the overcrowding that will be the basis of the federal law suits. The Governor reminds Robert that if these suits are successful, inmates will be released under a federal process outside the parole board’s control. What does Robert, as chair of the parole board, tell the Governor?

2. The Warden

William is the warden of a century-old correctional facility. Despite his best arguments, his operating budget was severely cut for the fiscal year that just started which eliminated overtime for correctional officers and froze hiring of replacement employees. Almost all of the rest of his budget is dedicated to food and medical services for inmates, and fixed utility costs. He was staffed for his average population (same as capacity population), but those numbers have skyrocketed due to an aggressive arrest and prosecute campaign. The facility is dangerously overcrowded with no foreseeable sign of relief. The major problem is staffing. William is concerned for the safety of his employees as well as the inmate population. He thinks that if his officers’ feel threatened they may report off for medical reasons, resign or simply not report for duty; any of which would only exacerbate the problem. William does have an off-site work release program which could handle the additional inmates. However, there is no “risk assessment” or screening process in place which means the designation of inmates to community-based work release would be based on unsupported security guess work. The union representatives for the security officers have a meeting with William to hear how the warden intends to ensure the safety of his members. How does William respond?

3. The District Attorney

Martha ran a successful campaign for district attorney on a very conservative platform generally critical of plea bargaining and reduced prison sentences for convicted felons. The city’s police chief, following his mayor’s directive to “take back the streets from gun-toting drug dealers” has launched a very aggressive arrest campaign, resulting in a dramatic increase in criminal cases. A review of sample cases clearly shows many of these arrests lack supportive probable cause and/or have very weak evidentiary support. As cases, most are “losers”. Martha knows from the criminal records that most of the arrestees are heavily involved in the city’s drug culture, even if the current case is weak. She also knows that anything other than aggressive prosecution of these cases will portray her as unsupportive of the mayor and the police and reneging on her campaign pledge. Martha’s chief of staff has asked her for some directive to her prosecutors as to how she wants these cases handled (trial, plea bargain, dismiss, etc.). What direction should Martha give?

4. The Officer

About 3:00am on a deserted street corner, Linda, a police officer confronts a young man acting in a manner which she recognizes from her experience and training as consistent with the mannerisms of a drug-deal “look-out”. Linda confronts the man and asks for his identification. She also asks him if he would empty his pockets for her. From one pocket the officer has recovered several vials which she recognized as crack cocaine; in the other pocket she finds $400 in cash. Linda remembers her sergeant at roll call chastising other officers for bringing in petty drug cases that just take time from patrol and clog the system. The department is getting complaints about overloaded dockets from the prosecutors’ office and there is no more room in the local jail. Earlier, in the locker room, fellow officers were griping about their colleagues who make themselves unavailable to handle calls for service because they are off processing some time-consuming minor arrest. With his pockets now empty, the subject still has not produced any positive identification. At this point Linda knows nothing about the suspect… and she can’t find out unless she arrests and charges him so the suspect can be fingerprinted and positively identified… and Linda can’t arrest and charge the suspect without the contraband. At this point the police dispatcher calls for Linda and asks if she is available to serve as back-up for a “burglary in progress” call. What does Linda tell the dispatcher?

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