Classification and Treatment by Moral Development Level

Murder, She Wrote, continued

Classification and Treatment by Moral Development Level, by Dr. G. Harry McLaughlin, continued


The theory of moral stages provides a convenient frame of reference for understanding residents. The principles of trust and democracy imply that the residents should be encouraged to use the same frame of reference. This would require all members of the programme to be trained in moral development principles. The main advantage would be that people concerned with quite different modes of treatment would all use a common non-technical language. Thus ultimate treatment goals and rating standards could be expressed in clearer and more generally understandable terms than they seem to be at present.


An atmosphere of trust cannot be created unless the staff show that they trust themselves, their colleagues and the residents. This requires staff to be sufficiently secure that they can contradict each other in unit meetings, and support a democratically reached group decision even if they do not agree with it. Such trust in turn makes it essential that those in charge of junior correctional officers give them the training, the autonomy and the respect which is essential to preserving a very high level of morale. In other words, if correctional officers are to display a high stage of moral reasoning, their superiors must show at least a similar stage of judgement.


After two years the Niantic Programme was able to make the logical step of applying the moral development approach to the transition to the community. In July 1973, a group of rooms and facilities at the YWCA in New Haven were opened as a living unit in which women from the moral development unit at New Haven could complete their sentence in the community.

It had been found that any progress which could be achieved in prison could be achieved within six months. After that, issues in the transition to the community must be faced in a community setting.

In order to form a moral community, offenders must be temporarily kept from the temptations and problems they faced in the wider community, by living in close and continual contact with one another and staff. Once the level of moral thinking has been raised in such a group, it can maintain itself as a responsible force in the wider community.

Kohlberg argues that such a community should be a half-way house separate from the unit at the prison. However, it would probably be more practical, and perhaps even more desirable, for an OCI programme to have a group all of whom were on daily working TAPs [Temporary Absence Passes.   RR] but returning each evening to their unit.


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