This represents another short paper I wrote as part of my ethics in criminal justice course. The content of this paper analyzes corrupt practices within corrections.


Within any organization exists the potential for corruption. Not even prison staff, whose very role is the reformation of individuals convicted of criminal behaviors, are immune. Correctional officer corruption can take many forms, be it smuggling contraband, sexual involvement with inmates or their families, or even abuse of prisoners.

There are a variety of motivators or causes for correctional officers to become involved in misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008). Many of these factors are factors we observe in the same criminological theory we posit for criminals amongst the broader populace.

Low Pay

Typically prison guards are not paid well. We learn from Merton’s strain theory that anomie, the discord between societal goals and the means by which individuals actually poses to achieve them, can result in what Merton called innovation (Schmalleger, 2009). The types of innovation that a guard would become involved in consists primarily of the smuggling of contraband into prisons for inmates willing to pay. As Brasswell, McCarthy, and McCarthy (2008) point out, recent “get tough on crime” initiatives have further restricted what little freedoms inmates possess, making it all the more lucrative to smuggle forbidden items.

Low Education

The educational level of guards tends to be low; many only posses a high school diploma (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008). Studies show that higher levels of education decrease likelihood of criminal behavior (Schmalleger, 2009). It should come as no surprise then that correctional officers are susceptible to corruption due low educational levels.

The Thin Blue Line

Corrections, much like it’s counterpart policing, indoctrinates it’s members into a subculture (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008). These subcultures, like many others, uphold the concept of loyalty to the group above all else. This places many corrections officers in situations where they would choose nonfeasance as opposed to whistle blowing on a coworker involved in corruption (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008).


Humans are relational creatures and form bonds between each other, particularly when they have regular proximity. Within the prison structure it is possible, and not uncommon for corrections officers to form friendships with inmates (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008). While this is not entirely a negative occurrence, and would likely be viewed positively by proponents of peacemaking in corrections, it does place pressure upon corrections officers to offer special treatment to the inmates they have befriended.

Gang Membership

During the past few decades, gangs have begun to attempt to place members into the criminal justice structure. This includes placement as correctional officers for prisons (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008). Such officers loyalty lies with their respective gang and corrupt activities in order to support the interests of the gang are to be expected.


Within the prison structure correctional officers often rely upon inmates to help them accomplish their jobs. It is not uncommon for the correctional officer to provide favors or turn a blind eye toward inmate misconduct if it allows him or her to accomplish their job (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008).

Opposite Sex

When male corrections officers are assigned to facilities for female inmates it creates opportunity for corruption (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008). In these instances, the prison administrators have done a poor job of controlling environmental factors which would control the opportunity for male correctional officers to become involved in forms of sexual corruption (Schmalleger, 2009).


While each of these different potential causes of correctional officer corruption are devastating to the correctional system, the most dangerous behavior is easily that of the thin blue line mentality. It breeds a workplace of tolerance for every other type of correctional corruption. It is vital to the justice system that officers be unwilling to stand by while their coworkers are embroiled in corrupt activities. This is an area of concern that the correctional system will need to address with their candidate selection as well as training and indoctrination of recruits.


Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2008). Justice, crime, and ethics, 6th ed.. Newark: Andersen Publishing.

Schmalleger, F (2009). Criminology today: An integrative introduction. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Prentice Hall.