Principles of Professional Conduct for Correctional Officers

All correctional officers must abide by a code of ethics and learn and uphold principles of professional conduct. Although every correctional facility is different, the code of ethics and principles of professional conduct for correctional officers are similar. They represent the standards to which all correctional officers are expected to adhere. 

Each state’s code of ethics and principles of professional conduct are a bit different, but they all include the same basic concepts. Here, we will refer to the Code of Ethics published by the American Correctional Association (ACA), the oldest and largest private, non-profit, non-governmental trade association and accrediting body for the corrections industry, founded in 1870. 

The ACA provides a Corrections Certification Program (CCP) which is a national method to become a Certified Corrections Professional. This certification is voluntary but gives corrections officers another way to gain recognition as a qualified corrections provider. 

Code of Ethics for Corrections Officers

Certified Corrections Professionals (CCPs) in the ACA are expected to adhere to the American Correctional Association’s Code of Ethics. This means that they will display honesty, respect for the dignity and individuality of all persons, and a commitment to professional and compassionate service at all times. Under the Code of Ethics, all correctional officers must:

  • Respect and protect all persons’ civil and legal rights.
  • Treat every professional situation with concern for the welfare of the persons involved, and with no intent to personal gain.
  • Maintain relationships with colleagues to promote mutual respect and improve quality of service.
  • Make public criticism of colleagues or agencies only when it is warranted, verifiable and constructive.
  • Respect the importance of all disciplines in the criminal justice system and work to improve cooperation with each discipline.
  • Honor the public’s right to information and share information with the public to the extent permitted by law and subject to a persons’ right to privacy.
  • Respect and protect the right of the public to be safe from criminal activity.
  • Refrain from using your position to secure personal advantages or privileges.
  • Refrain from allowing personal interest to impair objectivity in performing duties while acting in an official capacity.
  • Refrain from entering into formal or information activity or agreement that presents a conflict of interest or is inconsistent with performance of duties.
  • Refrain from accepting gifts, favors or service that is or appears to be improper, or implies an obligation that is inconsistent with your professional duties.
  • Differentiate clearly between personal views or statements and views, statements and positions made on behalf of your agency.
  • Report to the appropriate authorities corrupt or unethical behavior in which there is enough evidence to justify a review.
  • Refrain from discriminating against any person due to race, gender, creed, national origin, religious affiliation or any type of prohibited discrimination.
  • Preserve the integrity of private information. Refrain from seeking information on persons beyond that which is necessary to perform your responsibilities and duties. Refrain from revealing non-public information unless you have been authorized to do so.
  • Make all appointments, promotions and dismissal following established rules of civil service, applicable contract agreements, and individual merit rather than personal interest.
  • Respect, promote and contribute to a work place that is safe, healthy and free of any type of harassment. 

Duties, Rights and Privileges of Correctional Officers

A correctional officer’s sworn duties obliges them to society and the law. They include:

  • Keeping the peace and ensuring order in the facility.
  • Monitoring the activity of inmates and documenting their progress.
  • Providing the appropriate rehabilitation services to inmates.
  • Abiding by and enforcing policy at all times.

The rights of a correctional officer include:

  • The right to fair and just compensation, including benefits.
  • The right to due process, especially if accused of violating polity. 

Privileges of correctional officers are dependent upon each institution and must exist within the bounds of law. These may include things such as:

  • Switching duties with another colleague who agrees to do so
  • Switching shifts with another colleague who agrees to do so
  • Participating in training related to your career
  • Joining in legally, ethically permissible competitions

Rights and Responsibilities of Inmates 

It is important for correctional officers to understand the rights and responsibilities of inmates. All inmates have the rights to:

  • Not be discriminated against because of the color of their skin, their physical appearance, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs or for any other reason
  • To receive basic necessities such as food, water, clothing and good living conditions while they are incarcerated
  • To exercise rights to which they are entitled
  • To be treated fairly, with dignity and respect
  • To privacy
  • To due process 
  • To initiate grievance procedures
  • To be informed of correctional facility policies
  • To healthcare
  • To personal development training

Inmates have the following responsibilities:

  • To treat others fairly, with dignity and respect
  • To abide by correctional facility policies
  • To perform their duties as instructed
  • To maintain clean, decent living quarters

Specific Rules and Regulations of Certain Correctional Facilities

As mentioned above, principles of professional conduct and rules and regulations differ from one correctional facility to another. Corrections departments in some states have instituted specific rules and regulations covering all of the facilities in that state. One example is the state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, which has set forth the following specific rules and regulations for all correctional facility employees statewide:

  • Every employee in the correctional system must subscribe to the principle that something positive can be done for each inmate. This involves intelligent, humane and impartial treatment of inmates. 
  • Only the minimum amount of force necessary must be used.
  • In the event of an emergency, all correctional employees may be used for custodial services.
  • Each employee must assist in preventing an escape or pursuing an escapee.
  • If an employee or official is seized, employees should still carry out their prescribed duties, responsibilities or obligations no matter what a prisoner demands, regardless of consequences unless ordered from a higher authority.
  • Staff must not fraternize or have private relationships with inmates, parolees or family members.
  • Staff must handle inmates’ personal property with extreme care and dispose of only under authority.
  • No employee shall leave their assigned post or the institution or grounds without being properly relieved and authorized.
  • Employees must carry out lawful orders given by a supervisor even if they question the wisdom of the orders. 
  • Employees must treat their peers, supervisors and public with respect and conduct themselves professionally at all times. 
  • Employees mut possess facility keys at all times and not leave them unguarded, mislaid, unaccounted for, taken from the facility or given to an inmate.
  • Employees may not read books, magazines, newspapers or non-job-related materials while on official duty. Sleeping, inattentiveness or appearance of either is prohibited.
  • Off-duty employees must conduct themselves in a manner to demonstrate the public’s trust and confidence in them and not bring discredit to their profession, responsibilities, the Department of Corrections, or public service at large.
  • All employees are subject to search upon entrance or leaving the facility or at any time while on facility property.
  • Personal cameras and recording devices may not be brought into the facility by employees, inmates, visitors or the public.
  • Gambling on official duty is prohibited.
  • Employees must not permit any inmate to be in control of or exercise authority over other inmates.
  • Inmate abuse complaints or incidents of inmate abuse must be reported to your immediate supervisor.