CRIMj 465

Ethics, Behavior, and Criminality

Although there has been wide-ranging research on the subject, the relationship between moral belief and behavior is conflicting. Despite the claims of some, it is uncertain whether moral beliefs can serve as a valid predictor of moral behavior. Although some research does demonstrate a connection between honesty scores and theft, other research failed to find a connection between values and behavior. One difficulty may be measuring moral beliefs. Also, developmental and learning theories have a tendency to explain the research in this area differently.

Their exists within the criminal justice field doubt whether and at what time ethics can and should be taught. There is a strong belief by some that the United States is experiencing a decline in morality. A moral education was considered as an important part of a college education during the 19th century. Although, ethics courses are seldom mandatory in current college level curriculum, ethics permeates all aspects of professional education in business, law, and medicine.

Ethics education is important in the field of criminal justice. Notice that the term "training" was not employed. There is a distinct difference between training and education. Training suggests a stimulus and response. Education goes much deeper than reflexivity. Education denotes the expression and absorbing of concepts and ideas and not an "if this, then this" type of training. Also, there exists a vast difference between the official ethics espoused by an organization and subcultural ethics. What might be called academic versus real world education.

Disagreement also exists between those who claim that a criminal justice ethics education should occur at the outset of an individual's career in criminal justice. Those espousing this position fear that people already working in the criminal justice field will taint new hires, who will then succumb to the subcultural ethics of a particular organization.  On the other hand, learning theorists hold that ethical behavior needs to be rewarded if it is to be expected. In any case, criminal justice ethics education must be thorough and stress the importance of analysis and critical thinking if it is to be successful.

Theories of moral development and ethics education can be applied to the study of crime. Though not all criminal behaviors are immoral, criminology is linked to research in moral development. It has long been held that criminals were morally lacking; consequently prison programs stressed moral education. After a long hiatus from moral education, correctional programs are again finding appeal in moral reasoning.