Conflict in any organization can arise over breakdowns in communication, values conflicts, poorly defined work policies and demands, personality clashes, adversarial management, wages and benefits, employee distrust of authority, and external factors such as technological change and economic conditions. Whether or not conflict benefits people and organizations depends on the intensity of the conflict and how well the conflict is managed. There are several topics that must be explored when examining conflict in criminal justice organizations, such as, how conflict is defined, the types of conflict behaviors exhibited by people in organizations, conflict management, and the role of conflict in criminal justice organizations. Conflict whether between individuals or groups is inevitable in any organization regardless of its size and function. The consequences of conflict can range from a minor inconvenience to major losses in productivity and revenue. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of conflict.
Administrators and managers spend a great deal of time dealing with conflict. Conflict management may be equally important if not slightly more important than planning, communication, motivation and decision making. Conflict can be defined as a disagreement between people or organizations on issues such as goals, resources, rewards, policies, procedures, and job assignments. Emotional issues resulting from feelings of anger, distrust dislike, fear, resentment, as well as from personality clashes can also produce conflict. The Criminal Justice Network is comprised of police officers, correction officers, attorneys, judges, as well as treatment specialists. Conflict among these individuals or conflict within these subgroups of the Criminal Justice Network may arise for a variety of reasons. These antecedent conditions may include resource scarcity, policy differences, and disagreements concerning preferred outcomes for the organization, all of which may produce “conflict episodes,” which may or may not lead to hostile behaviors (Stojknovic, Kalinich, & Knofas, 2008).
Stress, hostility, and anxiety are affective states in workers that are produced by conflict. An employee’s awareness of conflict and how it influences their behavior also defines conflict within an organization. A riot in a correctional institution is an example of an outright confrontational behavior of conflict. Other behaviors many be passive resistance or aggressive. These concepts of conflict can be further examined in the four types of conflict in organizations: personal conflict, group conflict, intraorganizational conflict, and interoganizational conflict.
Conflict management programs aid in retaining individuals in the criminal justice organization when personal conflict occurs because a person’s individual expectations do not coincide with that of their supervisor or that of the organization as a whole. When individuals within a group disagree, group conflict occurs. A group of detectives competing with a group of patrol officers for valuable or limited resources is an example of another type of group conflict, intergroup conflict. The above example of intergroup conflict would necessitate the conflict management skills of the police chief to gauge the intensity of the conflict and to manage the conflict. Conflict of moderate intensity can be good for performance. This functional conflict, or constructive conflict, stimulates people toward greater work efforts, cooperation, and creativity. At low or very high intensities dysfunctional conflict, or destructive conflict, occurs. Too much conflict is distracting and interferes with other more task-relevant activities; too little conflict may promote complacency and the loss of a creative, high performance edge (Schermerhorn, 1999).