Can't Scale This? The Ethical Parameters of Correctional Work


As most correctional institutions have retained their paramilitary structure, the power differentials and communication lines continue to favor concentration in the top echelons of the organizations. Yet, power and communication are regulated and delimited informally by the actions of middle-level managers and lower level workers, and by subcultural influences within the organization. Because of these attributes, correctional work is characterized by discretionary decision making, particularly when the matter is minor, hidden from view, and sanctioned by the subculture. Acting in an ethical manner (i.e., doing the right thing) in such a closed, structured, but informally functional environment requires a recognition and appreciation of the complexity of the milieu along with a willingness to forge ahead. This article explores the ethical parameters of corrections work in a typical medium-security prison. In an effort to determine what the correctional staff regarded as ethical behavior, the authors administered a questionnaire to them using a newly developed ethics instrument. The authors endeavor to identify the major attributes of ethical work in prison and to establish the heuristic value of the instrument for future research.


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Document Type




Publication Date


Journal Title

The Prison Journal