Stoicism Theory and Criminal Justice System

As the world is trying to balance morals and advancements in technology, Stoicism appears to be rebirthing. The world needs virtue-based rules and fair application of justice. The stoic line of thinking is, to scholars and researchers, as relevant and applicable today as it was two millenniums ago. The Stoics held that it is impractical to be just if one behaves cowardly and unjustly. They believed in living a decent passion-free life aligned with nature. According to stoicism theorists, people tend to act virtuously if guided by rational judgments, consequently making their decisions rational (Banks, 2018). However, while everything concerning Stoicism appears almost ideal, the worrying question is whether one can attain virtue and live a life of total rationality. But for stoics, if a person can stray away from desires and passion, which are causes of emotion, then one could become virtuous and just, implying wise or sage as stoicism theorists call it (Machek, 2015). Criminal justice and ethics are closely linked, and it is expected that justice practitioners, including law enforcement officers, uphold high moral values, more significant than any other individual, to instill confidence in other society members (Banks, 2018). For the same reasons, Stoicism is an appealing ethical theory to fit modern societies’ criminal justice systems.

Stoicism is concerned about correct decision-making when faced with a situation like power. If a person has control over life events and could impact their moral judgment, everything will be good. In such a case, good and evil will depend on the person. If such an individual is freed from the effect of events that can pervade an individual’s moral view, the person will scale the highest level of morals desired among criminal justice professionals, from the police to judges and other people involved. Study shows that criminal justice personnel often reach a point in their profession where they require to exercise the application of discretion (Banks, 2018). They may need to pursue critical decisions concerning a particular ethical dilemma, and their emotions may feature in the way, blocking their decision-making abilities (Joseph, 2016). In such a case, Stoicism provides the best way out.


The criminal justice system comprises agencies and processes created by governments and nations to protect and serve society by controlling crime and imposing punishment for those who violate the law. For that reason, it is expected that individuals who make up the criminal justice system are people of high ethical and moral standards at every time (Clifton, Torres, & Hawdon, 2018). The practice and principles of stoicism ethics match well with criminal justice systems for two main reasons: a) its devotion to high integrity and moral standards of an individual goes with the pride in the profession and spirit that law enforcement professionals uphold along with the need for leadership and ethical codes; b) being stoic, emotionless, and hardened protects criminal justice professionals, the police, detectives, lawyers, prison officers, and judges from being emotionally disturbed by the consequences of their actions while carrying out justice or enforcing the law (Inwood & Miller, 2015).

The criminal justice systems are riddled with decision-making in every step and process, many moral and ethical in nature (Inwood & Miller, 2015). Law enforcement personnel must consider the consequence of each action they make due to the nature of their work to protect the community. From the time a crime is reported, it becomes the role of the police officer to ensure that the suspect’s rights are not violated. Sometimes the resistance from the suspect can force the officer to apply force, harming the suspect in the process. A stoic may not hesitate to hurt the suspect caught in the criminal act but attempts to escape arrest. Furthermore, just because there is a preponderance of the evidence, which the officer cannot present in the court of law, some officers may plan some proof to be established conveniently to merit an arrest (Clifton, Torres, & Hawdon, 2018). Again the defense lawyers/prosecutors apply every trick they know to get an acquittal or a conviction depending on the case, even though they understand very well that the outcome may work to the disadvantage of the other party because they are truly aware that the defendant is either innocent or guilty (Pollock, 2016).

On the other hand, judges apply their conscience to decide a sentence they believe is fair to the crime, even if their judgment will outlast the offender’s lifetime (Cicchini, 2019). And the probation or correction officers work on the principle that prisoners have their rights to constructive citizenship but must follow the prison policies and rules to letter throughout their imprisonment life (Dewey, Muthig, Colter, & Brock, 2019). These are decisions that may require the decision-maker not to apply emotions and be hardened to do only the right thing according to the situation; hence stoicism ethics prevails. Stoicism is part of the criminal justice professional’s shield as they conduct their everyday duties because irrespective of what they do, there will always be some consequences of their actions, which might be detrimental to some individuals or communities (Banks, 2018). Stoicism ethics to harden the police against emotional reactions, feelings, anxieties, or regrets associated with their professional actions can sometimes be traumatizing. However, stoicism ethics, when applied in the extreme, may defeat the very goal of the criminal justice system, which is to protect people and communities (Waters & Ussery, 2007). As a result, the criminal justice system is guided by four cardinal virtue of Stoicism, which is interconnected and supportive of each other and crucial in the modern world.

The first cardinal virtue is wisdom. A good law enforcement officer requires wisdom as part of the professional skill. The virtue is described in the criminal justice employment folklore as judgment. They say that a good law enforcement offer can deter rioting by the way he approaches the crowd, while a bad one can cause/initiate a riot. What is the difference between a good and a bad police officer? The answer is judgment, something that cannot be acquired just because of experience, neither can it be caught. According to Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations,” judgment is the capacity to reflect one’s experience. It entails thinking first and reflecting before acting (Robertson, 2018). A sound judgment encompasses a lot more than just problem-solving. Even if one comes up with a suitable solution, they still must implement it or stop themselves from doing something else. Impulse control is very critical in such a case. Many bad policing decisions happen because the decision-maker act first and thinks later (Inwood & Miller, 2015). They may even know they are making a wrong decision but cannot stop themselves.  

The second cardinal virtue of stoic is courage. A law enforcement officer must have courage, morals, and physical to defend what they believe to be their duty, whether in the face of disapproval by colleagues because of unpopular action or faced by mobs. Aristotle’s “Golden Mean” is of considerable value in this case in determining what courage means (Banks, 2018). We seek law enforcement officers who are neither recklessly impetuous (lacking fear, hence can quickly put their colleagues in preventable danger) nor lack more fiber, and therefore, many do not display courage where required. It is also worth noting that stoically inclined law enforcement officers may not want necessary initiate an action such as an attack, and blame it on their colleagues if they fail to exhibit the correct qualities in action, which they trust to be proportionate to proper policing Robertson, 2018). The most important thing to them is behavior.

Self-control or moderation is the third cardinal virtue of stoicism ethics. The founder of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, argued that a vital requirement in any police constable is perfect control of temper. Peel’s view is a classic depiction of the Stoic view appropriately expressed. Lastly, justice is the fourth cardinal virtue of stoicism theory. It posits that a law enforcement officer must long to achieve justice (Banks, 2018). As such, the guilty must be pinpointed, arrested, tried in the court of law, imprisoned, and punished, while the virtuous must be rewarded or else their work is deficient of a justifying rationale. However, the police must also be aware that justice, as defined, may somethings be challenging to achieve, and wisdom, as discussed earlier, must prevail. The police might choose peace in place of justice where there is a conflict of objectives (Inwood & Miller, 2015). For instance, where arresting a criminal might provoke a riot, the police may choose to arrest later. They must take a long-term view of the situation and cope with the frustration of the inability to attain a short-term goal. That way, peace will prevail in the short term, and justice is served later in the long run.

Overall, Stoicism is a cardinal principle in the criminal justice system, helping the officers to make correct decisions when faced with a situation like power. The criminal justice systems are riddled with tough decision-making in every step and process, which is moral and ethical. Some decisions might be detrimental to other parties, such as passing a life sentencing judgment, but must be made anyway. In such a case, being stoic, emotionless, and hardened protects criminal justice professionals from being emotionally disturbed by the consequences of their actions.

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