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Morality Behind Bars

An Intervention Study on Fostering Moral Competence of Prisoners as a New Approach to Social Rehabilitation

Kay Hemmerling

Prisoners prefer moral ideals like justice and responsibility just as much as non-prisoners. However, they lack moral competence, which Georg Lind has defined as the ability to solve conflicts through deliberation and communication rather than through violence, deceit and power. The data of this experimentally designed intervention study show that imprisonment mostly makes things worse. It leads to a regression of moral competence. Further, these data show that – with appropriate training methods like the Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion (KMDD) – moral competence can be effectively and sustainably fostered. The KMDD lets participants learn to solve stressful morally dilemmatic moments with mutual respect, thinking and discussion – the keys to a non-delinquent life in society.


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1 Introduction


1 Empirical studies detected that prisoners prefer justice, mutual respect, fairness and the ideal of democracy just as much as non-prisoners (Wischka, 1982; Lind, 2002). To understand the gap between moral principles, ideals or attitudes and the actual behavior modern moral psychology offers helpful scientific knowledge and furthermore pedagogic methods to reduce it. Moral principles like fairness are rather abstract, vague and diverse. In eve- ry-day life they need to be concretized in the particular circumstances when a decision is made. When pursuing moral principles, one of the difficulties that arise is considering the consequences of one’s action. Quite often a lack of knowledge about certain things prevents us from being fair then. Especially de- manding are those situation where more than one moral principle is involved and no single course of action is morally right. For example: What is a fair deci- sion when I come to know that my best friend is addicted to drugs and starts to deal in school yards in order to afford them? In such a dilemma-situation we deal with opposing moral principles - no conceivable decision would be morally right. Acting according to one‘s ideals gets even more complicated because a dilemma occurs “in the eye of the beholder” (Lind, 2006, p. 10)v. A person’s ability to apply one’s own moral ideals or principles to one’s be- havior and decision-making in every-day-life, especially to resolve moral con- flicts, is called moral competence. This definition is derived from Kohlbergs definition of moral...

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