What strategies can be used to promote accountability and transparency within the criminal justice system?

Developing professional standards and integrity alone is not enough to ensure compliance. Police services must broadly promote the code of ethics and standards of integrity throughout the organization; and they must incorporate the implementation of integrity standards in the hiring, training and promotion processes. Effectively developing and implementing integrity standards are important preventive tools for internal control and, therefore, contribute to “accountability before action”. Module 14 on professional ethics in the E4J University Integrity and Ethics module series provides more information on integrity standards and ethics for specific professions.

A culture of accountability in law enforcement is of particular importance. Police departments must create a system of internal checks and balances to ensure that officers perform their duties correctly and act with integrity. The criminal justice system must be a public service that works hand in hand with communities and that is accountable to the democratic process. By changing the criminal prosecution criteria against police departments to “reckless,” police officers can be properly prosecuted for their actions.

State prosecutors can initiate criminal lawsuits and hold law enforcement officials accountable under state laws. To encourage a culture of accountability in law enforcement, make sure that your agency's values are repeated regularly and reinforced in everything your department does. When police actions constitute (or are suspected of constituting) a violation of the criminal code, judicial institutions investigate, prosecute, judge and, if necessary, convict the police officers involved. However, if police services can investigate criminal and disciplinary offences on their own, there is a risk that investigations will not be carried out thoroughly, systemic flaws will not be identified, perpetrators will not be adequately punished, and a culture of impunity will be created.

Strong federal oversight through the Department of Justice can ensure that local law enforcement treats communities as partners. However, lasting responsibility in law enforcement begins with fostering a departmental culture that values integrity and ethics. These political accountability measures can work in conjunction with civil and criminal lawsuits to pressure police departments to adopt best practices. Whether it's measuring gun violence, tracking police practices, or caring for people suffering from mental health crises, the criminal justice system often doesn't collect, measure, or share objective data.

Laws that restrict access to information and criminalize journalistic activity are among the main legal challenges. In this sense, the judiciary plays a direct role in ensuring “accountability before the law”, by authorizing or refusing the application of special investigative measures, thus keeping police investigations within the limits of the law and human rights standards. In the midst of this fight, the American people went to the polls in November and approved a surprisingly comprehensive menu of criminal justice reforms. To create a culture of accountability in law enforcement, we must start with these informal values.

And ending speculation within the criminal justice system, including the termination of federal contracts with private prisons, can help ensure that people are treated as people worthy of respect and not as opportunities to earn money. Criminal justice system, from post-reconstruction plantation prisons to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland and too many other African-Americans and people of color at the hands of those responsible for protecting them. .

Luis Mersinger
Luis Mersinger

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