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Sheriff Arpaio’s Policies

In the modern world, and especially in the USA and other democracies, the rights of the incarcerated have become a part of the legal, political, and social discussion. The assertion that prisoners have no rights is a long gone one, and the authorities of prisons and jails are expected to treat the prisoners that they have in their facilities with respect, respecting their dignity and human rights. This has resulted in the development of an elaborate system of ethics around the prison system. However, depending on the school of ethics one subscribes to, the rights of the inmates and public safety collide. One person who believes in such is Sheriff Arpaio, whom many have criticized for his treatment of prisoners, including making them work in chain gangs and housing the inmates in tents. This essay is an analysis of whether the actions of Sheriff Arpaio are ethically right according to the deontological school, utilitarianism, and Kantianism.

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The deontological ethics system has a basis on the premise that how one does something is more important that the results that one’s actions produce. In essence, its basic premise is that if one’s actions are inherently good, then the outcome is inherently good despite its appearance (Jackson & Smith, 2016). On the other side, if one’s actions are inherently evil, it does not matter how good the result is, it is still ethically wrong (Jackson & Smith, 2016). Thus, Sheriff Arpaio has underscored the prevalence of safety of the public and the reformation of the inmates over the rights of the inmates to such a degree that he is willing to sacrifice the basic rights of the prisoners to be treated with dignity and to enjoy human rights that are compatible with being confined. For instance, he makes some of the male prisoners wear pink underwear that some may find embarrassing and indignifying. He also makes the prisoners work in chain gangs, which again is indignifying, dangerous and almost slave-like conditions. Lastly, he keep the prisoners in tents that get either too cold or too hot depending on the weather. While he probably does this in good faith, convinced that he helps keep the public safe and reform the prisoners, he also goes against the fundamental rights of the prisoners. In this case, regardless of the result, for example, the reform of the prisoners and safe neighborhood, the actions of the Sheriff are ethically wrong, according to the deontological school, regardless of whether there is greater public safety. Thus, this school will prioritize the rights of the inmates over public safety.

The utilitarian school seeks to find the solutions that lead to the greatest good, for the greatest number of people. Thus, in utilitarianism, the happiness of society in general is more important that the safety or comfort of prisoners or convicts, the people who only form a limited percentage of society. From the utilitarian’s school point of view, punishment should serve as a deterrent to future crime as this will ensure the maximum happiness of society (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2014). This deterrent can be general and it can discourage others from committing future crimes. A deterrent can also be specific, which means deterring the specific offender from committing crimes by either incarcerating him for some time or punishing him in such a way that makes committing a crime less desirable to him/her (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2014). From this aspect, the feelings and the discomfort of the prisoners under Sheriff Arpaio are not material if that results in the deterrence of the criminals and the safety of society. Thus, a utilitarian would consider the rights of the prisoners subservient to the needs of society for it to be free of crime.

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Kantianism, as a theory of punishment, seeks the punishment of those who do wrong. According to Kantianism, the ethics are based on duty. Consequently, in the case of lawbreakers, they have an ethical duty not to break the law due to the social contract between the individual and society. Thus, Kantianism calls for retributive punishment of those who break the law, seeing it as not only obligatory but also morally necessary (Aharon & Fridlund, 2013). Such punishment should not be because the authorities want the criminals to be deterred from committing their crimes or for them to reform, but simply because the criminals deserve punishment for breaking the law (Aharon & Fridlund, 2013). In this case, one would conclude that Sheriff Arpaio’s policies are ethical, according to the Kantian theory. The idea behind his methods seems like it is necessary to punish the convicts. In this case, the rights of the convicts are not only subservient to public safety but in some cases, they can be disregarded in the interests of retributive justice. 

Therefore, this essay has sought to analyze whether the actions of Sheriff Arpaio are ethical according to deontology, utilitarianism, and Kantianism. It is apparent that deontologists would consider the inmates’ rights to come before public safety. Under the deontological school, the actions of the Sherriff would be unethical as they are what some would consider actions geared towards harming the inmates. On the other hand, since utilitarianism tries to ensure the welfare of the majority of people, such actions would be ethical as long as they result in deterrence and reformation, and thus, public safety should trump the rights of inmates. Lastly, as per Kantianism, such actions would be justified since the inmates suffer retribution for having committed a crime. In this case, public safety is more important than the inmates’ rights. 

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