Justice gets a voice with NAU criminology professor

Cindy Banks

To secure fair treatment for prisoners, Cyndi Banks delves into the ethical issues facing criminal justice professionals.

Banks, an NAU criminology professor, researches prison conditions, helps Third World countries develop juvenile correction systems and has authored numerous books on criminal justice and comparative criminology.

“My goal is to try to humanize a dehumanized environment,” Banks said.

In her recently released second edition of Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice, Banks explores ethical predicaments confronting criminal justice professionals and discusses how they might be resolved. It reports on criminal ethics facing police, correctional officers, business owners, lawyers, judges and more.

“We may all have to make decisions involving ethical issues in our daily and professional lives, because, ethical issues are concerned with questions of right and wrong and how we ought to act,” Banks noted.

Her book also takes a close look at conditions in correctional facilities.

“When people are sent to prison, the deprivation of freedom is supposed to be their only punishment, but the system hasn’t had the ability to keep up with the staffing and overcrowding problems,” Banks said. “When you cut programs and pack people in an institution, it becomes a breeding place for violence.”

She said that in the United States, more than 7 million people are under the control of the criminal justice system and are either locked up or on probation or parole.

“Don’t get me wrong, prisoners aren’t always nice people,” she said. “But I personally believe they should be treated with dignity and respect and given appropriate programs that can facilitate change. There are consequences and accountability issues they have to face, but mistreating them doesn’t make the situation any better.”

Books by Banks include Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice; Developing Cultural Criminology: Theory and Practice in Papua New Guinea; Women in Prison; Punishment in America; and most recently, Alaska Native Juveniles in Detention: A Qualitative Study of Treatment and Resistancebooks

Banks hopes to help policy makers and decision makers tune into ethical issues that may arise so they can develop procedures, policies and rules that can actually protect people from infringements on their human rights.

“One of the issues I became very interested in is rape in prison,” Banks said. “Whether it’s male or female rape, there are lots of incidents of guards looking the other way so they can remain noninvolved. In some cases, the guards are doing the raping and women who didn’t enter jail pregnant are getting pregnant.”

She said the abuse of power over prisoners is commonplace. Correctional officers sometimes exercise their power by locking people in their cells for longer than necessary sticking “keep-lock” signs on their cell doors, withholding basic items such as toilet paper or turning off the water.

“The use of power can be used in what seems like very ordinary things,” Banks explains. “But these things are very important when you have very few rights and are locked in an institution.”

From the importance and meaning of ethics, to prisoner relations, legal, gender and racial issues—and the slew of moral crossroads faced by law enforcement—the book illuminates topics by providing case studies and real-life ethical situations. It also updates legal issues and includes a chapter on terrorism with debates on the use of torture.

“When I began teaching a class in ethics, I noticed a lack of critical or analytic material in one place, so I set out to organize, write and share what I have learned,” Banks explained. “It is important that our students understand that they will be confronted with moral issues on a daily basis if they work in the criminal justice system.”

Banks, who began teaching at NAU in 1999, worked with the Papua New Guinea Justice Department to develop a culturally appropriate probation system, and has assisted Bangladesh, Iraq, Sudan and East Timor in developing children’s rights and juvenile justice systems.

Click here to learn about more about Banks.