Moral reasoning of adolescent male offenders: Comparison of sexual and nonsexual offenders

11 December 2008

This study compared the moral reasoning abilities of juvenile sex and non-sex offenders using a novel methodology that explored their responses to moral questions in a variety of offending contexts. Seven sexual and nine nonsexual adolescent male offenders from a maximum security detention facility in New South Wales, Australia, were presented with a variety of hypothetical offending situations involving sexual and non sexual offences and asked to discuss these. It was hypothesised that the quality of moral reasoning employed by offenders would be impaired in those offending contexts in which they had prior experience. Responses were assessed using a modified version of the Moral Judgment Interview Standard Issue Scoring Manual (MJI; Colby & Kohlberg, 1987). Assigned levels of moral reasoning ability were verified independently by two expert raters. Responses by sexual offenders in sexual offending contexts and by nonsexual offenders in nonsexual offending contexts were dominated by preconventional reasoning. Both groups employed a greater use of conventional reasoning in non-congruent offending contexts.