Ethical decision making process in criminal and justice system

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The discussion below outlines and addresses ethical decision-making process within the criminal and justice system. For one, it begins with the consideration or the exploration of some of the approaches and areas that should need to be integrated into the decision making process.  Decision-making process within the criminal justice system, as the exploration outlines, requires a well-thought-out plan where critical thinking gained from training to enhance cognitive skills or thinking are used while also individuals using their rational judgment. In the same vigor, it boils down to viewing decision-making as an ethical responsibility or moral inclination in the criminal and justice system. Hence, leaders need to make sure that professionals understand that they should be guided by the need to embrace a sense of responsibility.  However, training is a necessity for these individuals because the process is more enhanced when more incentives are directed towards equipping them with skills and preparing the people with the right training to sharpen their mental and physical ability to make the right decisions. In the same way, change is necessary, and the decision-making process should exhaust all the available options like technology to be accurate in ethical decision-making. In essence, the exploration identifies and explains how criminal justice professionals are currently using artificial intelligence in a bid to streamline decision-making especially on the collection of information. Accordingly, it is recommended that an integrated framework for decision-making is necessary, especially having a comprehensive approach that integrates theoretical models and rational judgment in ethical decision-making.


Best to say, criminal and justice system presents a major challenge concerning ethical decision-making.  The sector requires proper dedication since there is a degree of expectations on the professionals, like the police and judges to make the right decisions.  The problem or challenge is further aggravated by the fact that the criminal justice professionals barely have the time of making critical decisions despite their actions making a difference between life and death ().  Just like other professions, the decision-making process in the sector is never foolproof, and this requires training and the use of proper approaches or models to enhance the efficacy of the individuals in making decisions.  In essence, following the right procedures enables the criminal justice professionals to react more strategically and rationally when faced with ethical dilemmas (). In light of these considerations, the subsequent discussion explores the different methodologies to decision-making within the criminal and justice system, the approaches to making the right decisions or the major factors to make the right choices. Particular attention is also given to the extent to which technology is currently being integrated to support decisions especially in extracting information as well as the drawbacks of artificial intelligence in ethical decision-making. From the literature evidence or analysis, this piece concludes that an integrative framework is necessary for enhancing decision-making capacities of the professionals that embed learned skills, critical thinking and rational judgment in ethical decision-making.

How to Make the Right Decisions during Ethical Dilemmas

The ethical decision-making process, being a challenge for criminal justice professionals, calls for a different approach or perspective to prepare the individuals to embrace sound decision-making skills. Experts in the field argue that at best, there should be training incentives, a recommendation that features in most literature exploring the decision-making process in criminal and justice system (Phillips & Burrell, 2009). Hence, within the criminal justice system, the ethical decision-making process is enhanced through proper training. For example, police training simulators are currently being recommended and relied upon for honing the professional skills as well as the decision-making competency. However, criminal justice literature now suggests some of the best approaches to improving the decision-making process after from the commonly used training incentives.  For one, the process should begin by looking the ethical dilemma rather from different perspectives and angles (Phillips & Burrell, 2009; Gelder & Vries, 2014). Through such a lens, an individual maximizes the number of solutions and possibilities hence enhancing his or her efficacy in making the right decision. Viewing an ethical issue or dilemma from different perspectives broadens the understanding and leads to accuracy in making decisions or solving the problem. Another recommended and the most practical consideration is that the situation should be evaluated comprehensively by identifying the inherent threats or the non-threats in the situation.  However, this also calls for making logical decisions about how a professional should react appropriately. At times, the ethical decision-making process entails using rational thinking and individuals being guided by their moral convictions to make the right decision or solve the dilemma.

Ethical-decision making process begins by simulating the situation. In essence, Gelder and Vries (2014) argued that it is imperative for the criminal justice professionals to visualize any situation before action is taken. Simulation or visualizing helps to identify the various elements involved in the simulation and this aids in using a model in making a decision. In most of the ethical dilemmas within the criminal justice system is because the professionals hold accurate assumptions about situations. In the courtroom and the police, held stereotypes and profiling have marred some of the decision-making processes. For instance, when deciding a case, judges will use the standard assumptions or assertions always held about a particular group, ethnicity or race. In so doing, they fail to realize that their actions or decisions are made out of the common assumptions which equally bar them from making ethically sound decisions. To some, it is recommended that professional help and advice is imperative for the criminal justice practitioners (Jensen, Lowry, Burgoon & Nunamaker, 2010). Soliciting help or even getting guidance from the colleagues works effectively in ensuring that an individual makes a sound judgment as concerning the particular situation or scenario presented per se.  Therefore, to enhance one’s ability to make ethical decisions, much emphasis should be put on seeking assistance.

Conversely, making decisions depends on how the information is evaluated. The decision-making process depends on the presented information of which the professional has to be comprehensive from the manner in which he or she assesses, evaluates and makes a judgment based on the information (Phillips & Burrell, 2009). Decision-making within the criminal justice system is sometimes a daunting task. In essence, it calls for emotional stability. Therefore, the process should be executed with a sound mind, more so, the individual acknowledging the specific emotions and making a proper balance with sound decision-making.

For the criminal justice professionals, they have the responsibility of their emotional, mental and physical fitness because these elements influence their ability or efficacy in making the right decisions (Gelder & Vries, 2014).  In this case, leaders within the sector bear more responsibilities in ensuring that the individuals have been subjected to continuous physical and mental physical decision-making training.  Training on mental and physical mental well-being enhances the capacity of the individuals in making sound decisions when they have been faced with strategic and tactical scenarios.

Just like any other ethical decision-making situation, critical thinking should be applied in the process by the criminal justice professionals. The underlying assumption of this consideration is that to a greater extent, critical thinking allows individuals to make an informed judgment by reasoning from the perspective of making right or wrong decisions and as such, arrive at well-thought-out decisions (Phillips & Burrell, 2009).  Besides, when critical thinking has been applied in deciding on the criminal justice system, the professionals arrive at or make objective decisions as they critically analyze the information.  Therefore, the above assertion implies that for the judges and police officers, the decision-making process should entail a critical thinking approach to analyzing the information and as such, make sound judgments when faced with ethical dilemmas.

Conversely, ethical decision-making within the justice system equally requires the use of cognitive skills especially in analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, making inferences, explaining and also essential in self-regulation.  On the same note, Phillips and Burrell (2009) argued that for individuals within the justice and criminal sector, they are equally required to embrace affective disposition whereby they are more concerned with being well-informed, adopting an analytical approach to assessing scenarios or situations. In this case, the approach implies that the individuals are more aware of the possibility of their personal biases. Hence, for the justice system or sector, the ethical decision requires an intelligent approach whereby individuals consider or use their critical thinking skills in assessing, making inferences and arriving at the best decision.

Few have recommended the introduction of ethical decision-making models more so those based on compliance and responsibility when conducting ethical training. Therefore, for the administrators and leaders within the justice and criminal sector, it is imperative to understand that the process is enhanced through ethics training. Conversely, experts in ethics maintain that decision-making process barely depends on codes or rules (Phillips & Burrell, 2009). Rather, being responsible one’s actions is the epitome of making sound ethical decisions. In this case, decision-making process, as understandable to leaders and administrators in the justice and criminal sector, all depends on the extent to which the professionals have been equipped with the necessary tools for making sound decisions. For leaders, training strives to make sure that the first step in the ethical decision-making process is the removal of any or inherent fear that could impede individuals from making sound decisions and to a greater extent, all shall depend on how leaders encourage the professionals to take the responsibility of the decisions they have made or been making (Gelder & Vries, 2014).

The decision-making process within the criminal and justice field is rather complicated. For one, the individuals are always judged based on the decisions they made, whether they have arrived at the right (ethical) or wrong (unethical).  Therefore, for all the individuals within the system, the decision-making process compels them to have discretion. The efficacy in making the right decision depends on how the discretionary roles of each since it aid them in comprehending how some of the unethical issues or dilemmas occur (Phillips & Burrell, 2009).  For example, police officers are obliged to have or consider discretion when making decisions on arrests, investigations, and citations.  On the other hand, prosecutors should uphold or maintain discretion when they are filing charges, influencing officers, downgrading charges or making decisions on death penalties. For judges, they are also tasked with the responsibility of maintaining discretion over sentencing, plea bargains, law reviews and rules that pertain to evidence.  The individuals working within the correctional facilities also have discretion over the determination of the appropriate behavior, parole and the supervision of the inmates.  Therefore, given their responsibility, each of the individuals involved in making decisions within the criminal and justice system all has the responsibility of enforcing the law as well as protecting the constitutional rights (Phillips & Burrell, 2009).  To enhance their efficacy in ethical decision-making, all boils down to including the right or perfect analytical as well as reasoning skills including improving their abilities to recognize some of the consequences of their actions. In this sense, the literature evidence denotes that ethical decision-making process within the criminal and justice system entirely depends on how the individuals have been equipped with better or sound analytical skills to make sound judgments.

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Integrating Technology in Decision Support

Other researchers like Jensen et al., (2010) have opened up the possibilities of using technology in improving decision-making process within the court systems. Technological options are currently being exploited on how systems can be accurately developed such that they have the efficacy of predicting the exact outcomes of cases. However, although the technology could be used in extracting the information to help courts in making informed judgments or decisions, much is left desired as to whether these options are exhaustive in the identification of information. For instance, artificial intelligence systems may fail to identify the specific information which would be imperative or necessary in making an informed or exact decision and helping with the ethical-decision making process. Therefore, however, much the artificial intelligence options are being recommended as the next considerations in the criminal justice system to help with decision-making, they equally fall short and not foolproof.

Using Theoretical Models to Enhance Decision Making

Some decision-making models are being recommended for the criminal and justice community.  For one, theoretical underpinnings suggest the necessity of sifting and seeking information before decisions are made.  The most common and recommended approach is the integrative framework to enhance the decision-making process, whereby the strengths of the individuals are improved through learning, rational thinking, and cognitive perspectives.  Therefore, within the criminal and justice system, the ethical decision-making process should rather assume an integrative approach or framework of which individuals use or employ a combination of critical thinking, cognitive abilities, and rational judgment in arriving at decisions. In essence, they should hold professionalism while at the same time, taking care to use their rational judgments since ethics is a moral duty that sometimes requires or compels a personal decision where the individual understands his or her responsibility of being ethical in the decision-making process.


In summary, the above analysis has outlined some of the critical areas of consideration in the ethical decision-making process within the criminal and justice system. Ethical decision-making requires a well-thought-out approach whereby the individuals use their critical thinking to evaluate assess, and arrive at the necessary decisions. However, all begins with the realization that ethical decision-making is a professional responsibility of which one needs to avoid assumptions and approach the situation from different angles or perspectives. For leaders in the sector, it is best to offer training to improve the cognitive skills and efficacy of the professionals in making the right decisions. In the same sense, it boils down to how changes are embraced, like employing technology for decision support. Eventually, an integrated framework is necessary for the decision-making process.

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  1. Gelder, J., & Vries, R. (2014). Rational misbehavior? Evaluating an integrated dual-process model of criminal decision making. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 30(1), 1-27. doi:10.1007/s10940-012-9192-8
  2. Jensen, M. L., Lowry, P. B., Burgoon, J. K., & Nunamaker Jr., J. F. (2010). Technology dominance in complex decision making: The case of aided credibility assessment. Journal of Management Information Systems, 27(1), 175-201. Doi:10.2753/MIS0742-1222270108
  3. Phillips, W. E., & Burrell, D. N. (2009). Decision-making skills that encompass a critical thinking orientation for law enforcement professionals. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 11(2), 141-149. doi:10.1350/ijps.2009.11.2.118
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