Incorporating Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development into the Justice System

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Carnegie Mellon University
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Lawrence Kohlberg was a moral philosopher who studied individuals to establish the way they developed a sense of right, wrong, and justice. He specialized in the area of moral development and observed that growing children advance through different levels of moral development, a concept similar to Piagets stages of cognitive development. Therefore, this observation led him to theorize that there are three stages of moral development, namely, the pre-conventional level, the conventional level, and the post-conventional level (Snarey & Samuelson, 2015). These are levels of thought processing, suggesting qualitatively distinct ways of thinking and problem-solving at each level. Therefore, this paper seeks to incorporate Kohlbergs levels of moral development into the justice system.

In the pre-conventional level, individuals do not have a personal code of morality. Instead, standards of adults and the consequence of breaking the rules, which Kohlberg refers to like punishment, shape peoples moral code (Snarey & Samuelson, 2015). As the chief officer, I would incorporate the concepts of rewards and punishment to guide my officers sense of right and wrong. On the other hand, Snarey and Samuelson (2015) state that, on the conventional level, an individuals sense of morality is linked to personal and societal relationships. In this level, adherence to rules and conventions is rigid, and laws fairness is often questioned. In this level, I would set standards and expectations for my officers that conform to societal expectations to guide their actions. Finally, in the post-conventional level, abstract principles and values define an individuals sense of morality. Self-chosen principles form the base of individual judgment while individual rights and justice control moral reasoning (Snarey & Samuelson, 2015). In this level, I would foster ethical decision-making among the officers to promote fairness, justice, equality, and respect for human life.

My officers can also use Kohlbergs levels of moral development while evaluating different criminals at different levels of moral development. For a thief in the pre-conventional level, officers must recognize the morals at stake in the theft and understand the obvious consequences that guided the thiefs sense of right and wrong. Similarly, for a suspected murderer in the conventional level, the officers can use Kohlbergs theory to establish the social expectations useful in judging the individual to be a murderer. Likewise, for a rapist in the post-conventional level, the officers can use the approach to judge the rapists morality based on their desire to uphold legal principles that foster justice for all members of the society, particularly, the rape victim.

Corruption in law enforcement is a concerning issue across the world. Many police officers engage in acts of self-interest and pursuit of pleasure, which foster police corruption. However, as the chief of police, I would address this issue by creating and communicating a policy of the forces noble mission. Second, I would enact robust and ethical leadership to influence officers towards the concept that actions are never a means but always an end to ensure that officers always choose what is right (Snarey & Samuelson, 2015). Finally, I would incorporate the concepts of rewards to appreciate ethical officers and use punishments for corrupt officers to teach officers about the acceptable and unacceptable practices to prevent police corruption.

As the chief officer, I believe that all my law enforcement officers should fulfill the following three prima facie duties. The first is the obligation of not to cause harm (Harfield, 2012). In particular, the police officers should have a duty to avoid unnecessary force and not to behave inhumanely. Similarly, I believe all my officers should fulfill the obligation to observe justice by serving and protecting the community by keeping liberty, equality, and justice (Harfield, 2012). Finally, I think that all my police officers should fulfill the duty of fidelity by being loyal to the force, trustworthy and dependable to the society we serve to preserve the integrity of the force.


Harfield, C. (2012). Police informers and professional ethics. Criminal Justice Ethics, 31(2), 73-95.

Snarey, J., & Samuelson, P. L. (2015). Lawrence Kohlbergs revolutionary ideas. Handbook of Moral and Character Education, 61-83.

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