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Corrections Leaders Face Same Ethical Challenges As Other Public Servants

Tuesday, May. 29, 2012

Do you have a correctional facility in your community? Ever wonder what goes on behind the barbed wire and concrete walls?

You might be surprised to learn that many of the challenges mayors and public administrators face are exactly the same as the ones faced by those who are in charge of our jails, prisons, detention, and rehabilitation centers.

In addressing a class of executives, wardens, and other high-level employees of local, state, and federal facilities, I realized the general public has little knowledge of the workings of these institutions and of the everyday challenges employees face.

My workshop for the Executive Excellence track of the National Institute of Corrections included a background on the Markkula Center’s Framework for Ethical Decision Making, as well as background on how to create a culture of ethics in an organization.

We know that corruption in government captures headlines. For example, the grand jury in Mason County, West Virginia, recently indicted former sheriff David Anthony on 42 counts, including fraud, embezzlement, and unauthorized use of a government purchasing card. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail, and until his “no contest” plea had planned to run for re-election. His sentence was slightly delayed because the judge also required him to write a letter of apology to the public and his employees.

What impact does this story and others like it have on correctional facilities? Plenty. In discussing the importance of ethics and creating and maintaining a culture of ethics, the participants' concerns mirrored those of other public servants.

Ethical lapses create the following problems:

• Loss of public trust. One incident can lead to a series of stories that create the impression of widespread corruption.

• Low morale. The actions of only a few can cause all employees to face embarrassment or loss of productivity.

• Closure of facilities or cuts in funding. The legislature may take punitive action against a facility in response to problems in a facility, even if those problems are being addressed

. • Difficulty in hiring personnel. Public service is important and rewarding work, but if a correctional facility is facing an investigation or employees are under indictment, recruiting good employees can be nearly impossible.

Balancing the need to take care of the facility as well as develop positive relationships with government leaders and the community was a common theme in our discussions.

While correctional facilities are good for the local economy, they are not always appreciated for the difficult, but necessary role they play in our society.

Tags: correctional facilities, corruption, National Institute of Corrections

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