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

When examining all the fields of criminal justice, morals and profound quality assume a vital role in everyday choices and decisions that affect many people. Lawrence Kohlberg developed a specific set of developmental levels to aid in the comprehension of how the evolution of moral standards is achieved. For law enforcement officials and professional law experts, grasping these stages is appropriate so as to make the most proficient, ethical and moral choices while engaged at the workplace. Individuals who are sworn to uphold the law, along with other law officers are held to a higher standard where profound ethical standards, honesty, and morals are one of the main concerns and focal points of the public.

The thought of equity is an affiliation that happens between the individual and the state. Justice implies that the state treats each individual equally and seeks ways to determine disputes dependent on the facts, opposed to subjective determination. Justice depends on the rights and obligations of individual people, particularly those who were sworn to uphold the law.

Law officers often utilize the idea of equity and justice, however, in every case they are not always reasonable, and like all humans, they commit errors. For law implementation to energize a general meaning of justice and equality, officers must have the ethical ability to legitimately authorize and enforce rules that everyone must follow and adhere to the mission and goals of their department. Justice also includes that officers must respect and maintain the rights of all people while on and off duty.

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Being the chief of police, it would be my obligation to provide leadership and encouragement to all officer who are directly under my supervision or any law enforcement officer who engages in official law enforcement duties related directly or indirectly to one of my officers. As a leader, it is also my obligation and my duty to guarantee that these officers are provided with the moral guidelines, ethical standards, and appropriate training to develop and lead ethical careers. Three Levels of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development Kohlberg’s ethical stages are separated into three dimensions. These dimensions are pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality. Inside each dimension are subsets called stages. Stages one and two can be found in level which are Obedience and Punishment Orientation and Individualism and Exchange. Stages three and four which are respectively apart of level two, are Good Interpersonal Relationships and Maintaining the Social Order.

Stages five and six, these can be found in level three, are Social Contract and Individual Rights and Universal Principles. The first level of moral reasoning was founded on a grade school level. These individuals behave according to social standards since they are constrained by an adult or another older figure of authority. Kohlberg calls stage one thinking ‘pre-conventional’ because kids don’t yet talk as individuals from society. Rather, they consider morality to be something outside of themselves, as that which the adult individuals state that they should do. There are two phases in level one, the obedience/punishment and orientation stage and the individualism and exchange stage. When these two phases are integrated into the work of law officers, it very well may be depicted as the officers complying with the law by maintaining their morality, practicing ethical standards and utilizing their protection by the agency.

The officers will also create diverse perspectives as they become more involved in day to day duties and gain valuable experience while acquiring a positive skill on how to handle minorities in society when required. In level two, Kohlberg sub-classified two phases as great relational connections and maintaining social order. These two phases depend on young individuals who should satisfy the desires and expectations of their family and exhibit acceptable conduct. This dimension is the most critical since individuals in this stage develop ethical practices that will impact the judgment of whether something right or wrong. Incorporating these two phases into the duties of law enforcement officers allows the officers to abide by the law while carrying out their commitments and obligation. The third level is the level that Kohlberg felt a large portion of the adult population would not achieve. This level had two phases about the implicit understanding/individual rights, and universal standards.

This stage will impact law officers as an entire organization. This stage is critical because it requires the law officers to question themselves on how they can make the local neighborhoods, the city, the general public, and society better. At stage five, individuals start to ask, ‘What makes for a decent society?”  Also, the officers must think about how their actions will influence the result and outcomes of what they are trying to achieve. Moral Development to evaluate three types of criminals Officers can utilize Kohlberg’s phases of moral development to asses white-collar crimes, various forms of robbery and juvenile crime. The white-collar crime is most likely listed between stage three and four. The officers will notice that these types of violations are often committed by way of personal relationship and social organization. White collard violations are progressively different and considered well-arranged crimes that have a monetary benefit and the discipline for these types of crime is less harsh when contrasted to other crimes. Robbery crimes more often take an individual risk and perpetrators bet solely on profit for themselves.

The motivation behind why theft is considered stage two is on the grounds that criminals carry out the crime as more of an individual gain rather than a value for society. The crimes of an adolescent or juvenile can be listed under stage one of Kohlberg’s hypothesis since they are underage and at the beginning stages of criminal wrongdoings. They are not completely developed as adults and they carry out rash violations. Even though the juvenile carried out the crime, the parents or guardians are still responsible for the crimes that they have committed. Police Corruption To address, self-interest, personal responsibility, and pleasure for to avert police defilement, there are multiple steps that the police division can use. The initial step is to apply a strict set of accepted rules that incorporates morals, honesty and ethical expectations inside the police force.

In addition to formal guidelines and directions, police agencies should develop and embrace a moral code which explains a more extensive concern with integrity and moral conduct for on and off duty law enforcement officers. The second step is to strictly enforce that police be held responsible for their actions and to administer any disciplinary actions that are required for unacceptable behavior among the officers. An additional step is to expel any enticement or temptation to engage in unacceptable behavior. This can be achieved by frequently switching units and shuffling partners so that ideas and thought are kept diverse. This method can be effective in that it allows any officer who may be corrupted or has the potential to be influenced to separate from other officers with similar ideas, thus limiting the spread of corruption among the force. In this way, an elevated integrity policy is enforced for the entire police force to abide by while on and off duty.

Prima Facie Duties Inside a police force, officers will satisfy their civic obligations. To do this minus all potential limitations, all officers should follow a list of Prima Facie Duties. These obligations will request that the officers display integrity, honesty, and morals not only inside the force. but also, in society. Without a doubt, the most important attributes of an individual in law enforcement is the officer’s integrity and moral behavior (Ethics in Law Enforcement n.d.). Prima facie duty perceives that people are occupied with day to day moral decisions when certain obligations are either completed or weighed against each other utilizing instinctive judgment.

The three obligations that law officers should dedicate themselves to satisfy are fidelity, beneficence and justice. Fidelity is an expectation of officers and their willingness abide by their oath and guarantees not to participate in duplicity. This concept is the most fundamental basis of being a law officer or law enforcement expert. Beneficence is a natural skill that officers should have inherited from birth. Before becoming a law enforcement officer, it should be their obligation to do what is right and be respectful to other people. Beneficence should help prevent or improve a situation for others. The last obligation to fulfill is justice. Justice should be the main driving force behind individuals who seek to become law enforcement officers. It is their obligation to recognize and characterize whether an action is right or wrong and prevent an unjust scenario from occurring.


  1. Ethics and the Pursuit of a Law Enforcement Career – Ethics in Law Enforcement. (n.d.).
  2. Retrieved from Kohlberg, L. (1985).
  3. Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. WC Crain, Theories of development, 118-136. Newburn, T., & Webb, B. (1999).
  4. Understanding and preventing police corruption: lessons from the literature.
  5. Retrieved from

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Incorporating Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development into the Justice System. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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