Mcloughlin, Rachael (2018) Morality of Offenders: Investigating Morality of Individuals Who Commit Crime. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Morality is often difficult to define due to its abstract nature, relating to both internal beliefs and morals that an individual possess as well as external factors and circumstances that arise which impact on an individual’s moral decision-making ability. Prior research suggests there is a relationship between morality and criminal behaviour but that this relationship is multifaceted and complex. It is often the assumed that criminals have a lower sense of morality. This study aims to investigate individuals’ own understanding of morality and crime, their level of morality and whether situational precipitators influence the moral decision-making process and, ultimately, their propensity to commit crime.

The research used mixed-methods to examine how a range of complex factors may influence criminal behaviour. The fieldwork was conducted in two, interconnected, phases. In phase one, 184 survey responses captured relevant data on individual demographic characteristics, levels of self-reported moral attitudes and past criminal behaviour. Phase two involved follow-up interviews with a purposively-selected sample of the survey participants. Eight interviews were carried out, seven who self-reported previously committing a range of crimes and one who did not. The interviews were used to tease out some of the complexities between individuals understanding of morality and situational precipitators, and additionally explore the flexible and dynamic nature of individuals’ morals within the complexity of different decisions they made in relation to committing crimes.

Findings suggest that there appeared to be no difference in levels of morality between those who do and do not commit crime, but stigma relating to the belief that criminals ‘lack morals’ emerged. Situational precipitators also became evident and appeared to influence an individual’s moral decision-making process to commit crime, especially peer and social pressures. Interestingly, morality appeared to have the ability to both inhibit and encourage criminal behaviours, with morality proving to be a fluid component of human behaviour, often dependant on situational contexts. This research, therefore, contributes to existing knowledge demonstrating morality and criminal behaviour to share a relationship, but one which is complex, dynamic and influenced by multiple factors.

Rachael McLoughlin FINAL THESIS.PDF - Accepted Version
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