Ethics is the systematic approach to the process of understanding, analyzing, and distinguishing issues as either being right or wrong, good and evil, and admirable and deplorable about the well-being and the relationships among human beings. The ethical determinations are utilized via the use of the formal theories, approaches, and codes of conduct which involves codes developed for professions and religions. However, ethics is an active process rather than a static condition which makes some ethicists use the expression “doing ethics.” When individuals practice ethics, they are termed to be in full support of the beliefs and assertions of other people, and they are in a position to defend their stand.  Every institution in the world has the responsibility of understanding the broadness of ethics to come up with ethical codes.

It is essential, however, that we understand the principles of ethics, theories of ethics, types of ethical inquiry, and the ethical perspectives if we have to have absolute knowledge on coming up and analyzing ethics or ethical code in prisons. It is inevitable to lay a good foundation for the understanding of ethics to ensure that every ethical code follows principles of ethics. However, a prison is a correctional center rather than a punishment facility situated at different locations of different nations (GOTTSCHALK, 2013). Despite the fact that prison accommodates individuals who in one way or another have violated the rules, regulations, and the provisions of the law in a particular state, they have to be treated in a legal and right manner to facilitate their behavioral improvement. Hence, it is through the adequate understanding of ethics that enables individuals to come up with proper ethical codes.


Principle of Beneficence

It is the principle that guides the individual deciding to emphasize and acknowledge what is right and good in regards to the subject matter. The priority of recognizing the goodness of something provides the society with the chance to come up with the most suitable solution to an ethical dilemma. The principle is, however, related to the principle of utility that states, every individual should attempt to produce the most significant ratio of good over evil in the world. It stipulates that all ethical theories should work towards achieving the greatest amount of good since people benefit from the good acts of others. 

Principle of Least Harm

It is responsible for guiding the decision maker in areas where no specific choice appears to be beneficial. In such instances, the decision maker is supposed to choose the option that does little harm possible to the fewest people. Therefore, in cases where a decision has to be made, and the decision has a negative impact on people, the number of people to be adversely affected by the decision should be significantly low (Chonko, 2012).

The Principle of Respect for Autonomy

The principle of respect of autonomy argues that the decision-making criteria should focus on allowing all human beings with the opportunity of making decisions which have direct effects on their lives. Therefore, it follows that people have the right to control their lives and they are adequately aware of all issues in their lives. Therefore, any ethical code should not interfere with the chosen life of people, but instead, it should protect the chosen life of the person.

The Principle of Justice

It upholds that, all decision makers should rely on actions that are fair to the affected parties. It means that ethical decisions should be consistent with the ethical theory unless extenuating circumstances must contain a significant and vital distinct from similar cases that justify the inconsistent decision.  Justice should be the order of every decision in the world irrespective of the harm it will do to the affected parties. Hence, even in formulating ethical codes in prisons, the ethical codes should focus on being justice to all involved beings. 


In all matters involving decision making, the specific ethical theory utilized emphasizes the aspects of an ethical dilemma crucial to coming up with an ethical choice. Therefore, there are four main theories of ethics which are the theory of Deontology, Utilitarianism, Rights, and theory of Virtues. Each of the theory is discussed below

Theory of Deontology

The deontology class of ethical theories argues that every human being should pay attention to their obligations and duties in every instance that they are involved in the decision making when ethics are in action. It highlights that a person is legally bound to another individual or society since upholding one’s duty to another is what is considered to be ethically right. 

Theory of Utilitarianism 

The theories in this section are based on one’s ability to predict the consequences of a particular action that affects the welfare of the majority. According to utilitarian theory, the choice that has greatest yields among many people with different interests, it is the ethically correct choice. There are two distinct types of utilitarianism which are act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism stipulates that utilitarianism is the situation in which a person undertakes acts that are beneficial to most people regardless of personal feelings or the social constraints such as the law. On the other hand, rule utilitarianism takes into consideration the law, and it is concerned with the fairness rule to the affected lives.

Theory of Rights

In the ethical theories that are based on rights, the rights that are founded by the society are to be protected and are to be given the highest priority. Rights are considered to be ethically approved since a large portion of the total population endorse the rights. Hence, society has to decide the rights it needs for proper behavior among its citizens (Chonko, 2012). Before a society decides on the right it wants to establish; it must first establish the goals and objectives it wants to accomplish.

Theory of Virtues

It derives its conclusion from an individual’s character rather than by an action that has the power to deviate from his or her usual behavior. Hence, the theory takes into consideration a person’s reputation and motivation when rating an unusual and irregular behavior that is considered unethical by the society.

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The Rationale for discussing Principles and Theories of Ethics

The paper is concerned with the ethical codes in prison rather than the topic of ethics and its constituents. However, the formulation of the ethical codes in prison requires an in-depth knowledge of ethics and all of its constituents. The principles formulate the results of the ethical codes in that they the formulated and the formulation of ethical codes should ensure there is justice, respect of autonomy, least harm, and benefits to a large proportion of the society. Simply, the principles of ethics highlight the conditions that the ethical codes in prisons should follow. The theories of ethics guide the formulators of the prisons ethical codes suggesting that all formulators should be equipped with vast knowledge of the theories of ethics (GOTTSCHALK, 2013).


 A prison is a facility established by the society for providing correctional services to individuals who break the law or ethics of the community. Many years ago, prisons were seen as a measure of punishing wrongdoers, but after the developmental theories such as the Latent Trait Theory by David Rowe which try to explain why people engage in criminal acts, the respective governments turned prisons to be correctional institutions. Here, correctional facilities should be governed by particular ethical codes which should apply to the staff and the prisoners or the individuals under the penitentiary curriculum. Since the era of slave trade, there has been rules and regulations governing prisons only that the rules in the current century aim at improving a person’s well-being. Some of the unethical practices that have been reported in the past include;

a.)    Sexual abuse of prisoners by the staff mainly in female correctional regions as well as sexual abuse of prisoners by prisoners

b.)    Use of extreme force by the prison warders in calming a crowd or ensuring a particular activity is completed

c.)    Business activities between the inmates and the correctional staff which result in favoritism at the expense of others

d.)    Seclusion of particular individuals in harsh confined areas and conditions which stimulate psychological problems

e.)    Prison officers are engaging in discussion at public places concerning prison activities to unauthorized people 

f.)   The disclosure of useful and secret information by prison officers about certain prison staff or fraternity to unauthorized people

g.)    Use of narcotic substances by law enforcers in the prison 

h.)    Promoting of fights in the prison by officers for gambling purposes

To rectify the above issues and to prevent further unethical acts in prisons, it is essential to implement ethical codes that apply to the prison officers and staff, and the prisoners with equal measures. The governments of all nations should adopt the implementation of moral laws in all prisons to ensure that the correctional program in prisons does not interfere with the rights of a person. The ethical codes to be discussed in the paper will be divided into segments which are, General ethics, ethics of communication with prisoners, ethics of prison officers communicating amongst themselves, and ethical codes of leisure period in prison.

General ethical codes in Prison

The general moral laws are the provisions that will govern the prison or that are supposed to oversee the overall operations of the prisons and the include;

Proper behavior of senior officers of the prison

It suggests that every senior personnel at the prison will have the duty of upholding good behavior or setting an excellent example for subordinate staff and the prisoners. In return, any inappropriate or damaging behavior should be condemned and should face strict legal repercussions. 

Work of a prisoner officer

The ethical code in this clause is that every officer in prison should work in a fair and honest manner. It means that he or she will not distort or lie to the senior management about any issue that may be affecting the prison activities and administering of justice. 

Disclosure of information by officers

Every law enforcer in prison is bound by the law not to disclose any information pertaining the prison, programs, and prisoners in the facility to any unauthorized individuals. It enables the police officers to guarantee the occupants of the prison with the required security. It shows that act by an officer to provide third parties with prison information may harm the welfare of the prisoners and the officers in an event such as an attack on the prison (Bülow, 2014).

Prevention of law violation

Every officer in prison should work in ensuring that no one in the facility violates the provisions of the law and in case of law violation, necessary measures are implemented to punish the law offender. The ethical code here ensures that there is a legal procedure through which all activities in prison are undertaken.

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Ethical Codes of Communicating with prisoners

One of the ethical codes under this provision is that the police officers will only communicate to the prisoners under the stipulated framework of implementing the legal duties. Hence, all officers should withhold from activities that might be questioning his or her objective of talking to the prisoner at a prohibited period. However, under this code, an officer should not give any false promises to prisoners who are beyond his or her authority of authorizing the implementation of the promise.

Another ethical code under this sub-topic is that any prison officer is not supposed to address or treat a person who completed his or her time in prison as a criminal. It is against the laws of any land for an officer to view an individual from any correctional unit as a criminal since the person successfully attained the right to get back to the society implying that he or she is not a threat to the security of the public

Also, an officer has no jurisdiction of communicating to the prisoner matters regarding his or her private life. The acts of private talks with prisoners may stimulate the prisoner in performing or undertaking decisions that might be a threat to the prisoners such as planning to escape or committing suicide. Hence, every law enforcer in prison should talk to the prisoners on matters that are only beneficial to both parties and which are within the law (Bülow, 2014).

Ethical Codes of officers communicating amongst themselves

One of the ethical codes here is that a police officer in prison has the responsibility of providing assistance or guidance to a new officer within the facility. However, in matters relating to the security of the prison, in the case of a security breach, an officer should immediately work towards assisting the new officer.

Also, every law enforcer in prison must point out weak areas that a fellow officer has to improve dispatch of services to the prisoner and the prison fraternity. However, this act should be done discretely to avoid visitors as well as probationers from knowing the malpractices of a particular officer. It is common in the world today that the corrections made to people help them be better in their work areas for personal and social benefits.

In case of an intimate relationship between officials or staff at the prison, and in this case intimate status of police officers, they are not to display their relationship in the presence of fellow officers and the prisoners. It allows officers to have a conducive working environment as well as allowing inmates to raise their grievances to any of the prison warders.

Ethical Codes of Leisure time in Prison

Every individual has the freedom of having leisure time even those in prison and one of the ethical codes of leisure time in prison is that an officer should not use any drugs that may influence his or her ability to offer quality services within the facility. Any use of drug abuse should as well not be practiced in prison by any person.

However, a prison warden should not communicate to individuals during their leisure time who have the capacity of damaging the officer’s working post. If the reputation of the officer is damaged, then a lot of complaints will arise concerning his or her behavior or choices, and this is unacceptable for the prison laws. The ethical code, therefore, suggests that an officer should refrain from activities that are damaging to his or her social status.

Finally, another ethical code under the leisure time in prison is that an officer should not take upon himself to wear dirty, provocative and or indecent clothes. Therefore, there should be a stipulated dressing code for the prison wardens and the prisoners to avoid any unnecessary turnover of events. The senior officials in prison should ensure that there is a uniform code of dressing where the officers wear a standard uniform and the prisoners are given decent, clean, and non-provocative wear. 

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Every human being should be treated in an equal measure regardless of race, class, and gender as the law suggests. It means that holding external factors of race, class, and gender constant we remain to be human beings with equal capabilities. Similarly, in prison, there should be the ethical code of equality in that there should be no higher person than the other. The equality code of ethics here cuts across the prisoners and the prison wardens. The prisoners are deprived of the freedom and the right of free movement from one place to another within the nation. Therefore, all prisoners have been deprived the same thing which makes them all equal and should be treated equally. On the other hand, the prison wardens have the responsibility of ensuring a smooth transition of wrongdoers in the facility. They should, therefore, implement laws and benefits that are equal among all the wardens since they serve the same purpose or interests.


Ethics is a broad field of study that governs the day-in and day-out operations of people in every sector since it is concerned with decision making. It follows specific principles and theories that facilitate the establishment of suitable ethical codes. In prisons, there should be ethical codes that govern the working of police officers and the behavior of the prisoners. The paper’s discussion shows that it is evident that the ethical codes in prison should ensure there is justice, least harm, beneficence, and respect for autonomy.  However, the ethical codes should depend or lay their foundation on the theories of deontology, theory of virtue, theory of utilitarianism, and the theory of rights.

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  1. Bülow, W. (2014). Ethics of Imprisonment: Essays in Criminal Justice Ethics, 1-18.
  2. Chonko, L. (2012). The University of Texas at Arlington: ETHICAL THEORIES, 1-5.
  3. GOTTSCHALK, L. (2013). Introduction To Ethics, 1-15.
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