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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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Preface: Criminality as Lowest Level of Moral Competence


When the author asked me some years ago whether I was willing to advise his project I was reluctant. On the one side, I saw a great chance for research on, and application of, our new Dual-Aspect-Theory of moral competence (Lind, 2002; 2008; Nowak et al., 2013). If, as Socrates hypothesized, morality is mainly a matter of virtue or competence, and if, for this reason, morality could be taught, then, we must assume, criminality is a sign of low moral competence and hence can best be treated (not faught!) through adequate methods of competence training. Indeed, I had elaborated this hypothesis in an article titled “Violence and war as the lowest stage of conflict resolutioniv“ (Lind, 1998). At that time, this theory was supported by many studies showing consistently a strong (negative) relationship between criminal behavior and moral development. It seems that (lack of) moral competence is the single most powerful predictor of criminal behavior (Blasi, 1980; Wischka, 1982; Hemmerling, 2006; Lind, 2009). There were also many intervention studies showing that the so-called method of dilemma discussion by Moshe Blatt and Lawrence Kohlberg (1975) was quite effective (Lind, 2002) and that it could be successfully applied in prison settings (Jennings et al., 1983). Yet these applications were confined to a few projects in the United States. I knew of only one application of Kohlbergian methods of moral education to the rehabilitation of prison inmates in Germany. Glasstetter (2005) ran an intervention study with juvenile delinquents using Kohlberg’s just...

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