Conflicts of Interest: Research, Policy and Investments in the Criminal Justice-Industrial Complex

Paul S. Leighton, Eastern Michigan University

The journal Crime and Delinquency ran an article about how private prisons had lower recidivism rates, followed later by an article on how an author of the original piece had a position with the Corrections Corp of America, owned their stock and had received several million dollars as a consultant to the private prison. This presentation does not resolve issues raised in the heated exchange but uses the incident to explore the meaing and importance of conflict of interest. In contrast with a final rebuttal that tries to make a case against conflict of interest provisions in general and their inclusion in the ASC code of ethics, this paper uses contemporary examples like Enron to highlight the importance of such provisions and reviews judicial codes of ethics on the importance of avoiding even the appearance of conflicts. Drawing on well developed guidelines from fields like biotechnology and medicine, the paper highlights best practices and answers questions like whether stock ownership through a retirement account means there are conflicts in, say, purchasing decisions about Microsoft products. The conclusion reiterates the importance of conflict of interest provisions and argues that criminology needs to develop more sophisticated understanding of the issue as the criminal justice-industrial complex grows and justice increasingly becomes a for-profit venture.

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Updated 05/20/2006