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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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5 Discussion


The discovery that morality is a competence of an individual that can be fostered by high-quality education opens up new vistas for effective social rehabilitation. Moral competence is the capability of solving conflicts and disagreements by balancing one’s considerations and by engaging in rational discourse with others instead of using violence and abusing power. Experiments and studies show high correlations of moral competence with, for example, conflict solution abil- ity, cooperation and learning behavior in general as the present study points out, aimed goals of social rehabilitation. According to the Education Theory moral-discoursive exchange is an indis- pensable pre-condition for fostering moral competence. Only if an environment offers learning opportunities for Responsibility-Taking and Guided Reflection moral competence can be fostered. The present study asks if the Konstanz Meth- od of Dilemma Discussion (KMDD) is able to effectively and sustainably foster moral competence in a prison environment. In the later sections, the discussion is organized according to each of the four hypotheses formulated for this study. The discussion is illustrated by quotations of prisoners collected throughout the research process. 5.1 Fostering Moral Orientations in Social Rehabilitation: Carrying Coals to Newcastle Until now morality had not been regarded as a competence, but purely as a mat- ter of moral attitudes, i.e., as a matter of valuing or loving moral princi- ples/norms. In the line of this attitude approach, amoral offenders are assumed either to possess specific criminogenic values or even to have a “lack of moral sense” (Winnicott, 1990/1965, p. 25). Accordingly...

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