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Prisoners' Perception of Informing to the Authorities: An Analysis in Terms of Functional Moral Judgement

NCJ Number
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology Volume: 47 Issue: 6 Dated: December 2003 Pages: 714-728
Yuval Wolf; Moshe Addad; Nilly Arkin
Date Published
December 2003
15 pages
In focusing on inmates' perceptions of the morality of informing the authorities about a fellow inmate's transgressions, this article uses "functional measurement" of moral judgement as a means of determining changes in moral perceptions in relation to a person's goals at a given moment.
The study participants were 147 men (n=80) and women (n=67) incarcerated in Israeli jails for the following 4 offenses: murder, robbery, drug trafficking, and white-collar offenses; 20 men and 20 women were in each category of offenses, with the exception of 7 women who were incarcerated for murder at the time of the study. The researcher, who was a well-trained prison psychologist well-versed in forming a collaborative atmosphere in communications with inmates, met each participant individually. Each inmate was asked to form a vivid mental image of incidents associated with informing on another inmate. In the context of each incident, the interviewer specified the appropriate combination of the characteristics of each incident. The circumstances involved in-group or out-group givers and receivers of the incriminating information. Inmates were asked to assess the moral quality of the actions of an informer in each incident. The severity of an inmate's judgment about an informer depended on the perceived affiliation of the protagonist (informer or victim of informing) within inmate society. The judgments on the informer were extremely severe when the incriminating informing was delivered to an out-group element (prison authorities). When the receiver of the same informing information was an in-group (underworld) arbiter and when the victim of informing was an out-group inmate (convicted for political offenses), the judgments on the informer were more lenient. These findings suggest that offenders' moral judgements about their behavior and the behavior of others modulates according to circumstances. This article concludes with a brief discussion of how these findings might be relevant to positive behavioral and value changes in offenders. 3 figures and 38 references