by Calliope D. Spinellis,
Emeritus Professor of Criminology
Kapodistrian University of Athens
We return to the debate around a Code of Ethics for Criminologists for two main reasons: Firstly because we wish to have an interactive contact with our readers, through the ‘art of crime’, regarding the very need of such a Code. And secondly, because in Greece other professions, both more and less relevant to criminological science (such as doctors, lawyers, psychologists, social workers) have their own ethical codes.
We must remind ourselves that criminologists, as with other scientists, often face moral dilemmas during their practice that may strain an individual’s good judgement.
Indeed, criminologists should be subject to a set of rules, even if unenforceable, reflecting the importance of their work, given that criminologist are often obliged to earn a parallel living (as a lawyer engaged in research, an academic tutor and consultant to a polling agency, researcher, or employed in a detention facility). Let us suppose, in the latter case, that a prisoner confides to our subject his involvement in a serious crime, for which he is subsequently prosecuted. Should our criminologist refuse to testify during the preliminary or main court proceedings relating to the case? Is our criminologist’s professional discretion protected under the Penal Code or by some specific ruling, as is the case for social workers, psychologists or child welfare workers? Wouldn’t the creation of a code protect criminologists, especially if ratified by law? And furthermore, does the criminologist have easy access to statistical and other information (such as ordinances, briefs, situation reports, etc.)? Does he/she maintain the anonymity of persons, and respect the confidentiality of information entrusted to them? Is the criminologist aware of the obligations towards the subjects of their study (gaining consent, not misleading, causing mental pain or worse still, physical harm)? Does the criminologist have obligations to the sponsor or employer or even to society that he/she is not aware of? Shouldn’t the title "criminologist" be accompanied by certain minimum qualifications and what should they be?
In other words, what we request from our readers is to reflect on the positive and any negative effects that may be attached to a Code of Ethics. E.g. would this facilitate or impede professional practice or research? Would a code of conduct result in the criminologist dwelling too long on moral and ethical questions and less on the discovery of scientific truth?
From another perspective, I would also like our readers to consider if such a code actually protects the criminologist. And one final thought: would the Code contribute to greater recognition and protection of this relatively new profession?