Victim Awareness Programs for Delinquent Youths: Effects on Moral Reasoning Maturity

By Putnins, Aldis L. | Adolescence, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Victim Awareness Programs for Delinquent Youths: Effects on Moral Reasoning Maturity

Putnins, Aldis L., Adolescence

During the last decade a number of programs for offenders have incorporated educational components aimed at enhancing participants' understanding of the experiences of victims of crime. For example, some sex-offender programs have victims give accounts of their experiences and the effects that the assaults have had on their lives (e.g., Freeman-Longo & Wall, 1986). A program in the United Kingdom at the Rochester Youth Custody Centre organized discussion meetings between young offenders and burglary victims (Launay, 1985; Launay & Murray, 1989), while Impact of Crime on Victims classes are regularly run for juvenile delinquents by the California Youth Authority (English & Crawford, 1989). Collectively, these can be referred to as Victim Awareness Programs (VAPs). These are not victim/offender mediation programs-none involve the offenders' own victims. They aim to increase offenders' awareness about crime victims in the hope that this will reduce the risk of reoffending. In essence, these programs strive to influence offenders' sociocognitive functioning in ways that will decrease the likelihood of antisocial behavior.

Delinquents are typically deficient in a number of sociocognitive skills (Arbuthnot, Gordon, & Jurkovic, 1987). Among these are reduced reflectiveness (this includes a lack of forethought regarding consequences); poorer empathic ability (particularly of affective empathy, though accurate cognitive empathy also plays an important role as a necessary precursor of appropriate affective empathy); immature sociomoral reasoning (a narrow worldview that fails to adequately encompass the perspectives and experiences of, and relationships with, others); and distorted thinking that employs neutralization strategies to either deny or minimize the real harm done to others (e.g., "Their insurance will cover it"). At the heart of VAPs is an attempt to get participants to think about victims using accurate and credible information. Arguments could be made as to how VAPs might influence any or all of the areas of sociocognitive functioning mentioned above. They are all to some degree interrelated and all influence cognitions about victims.

Despite the intuitive appeal and obvious content validity of VAPs, little research has been carried out regarding the effectiveness of these programs. In evaluating the Focussing on Victims Program for young offenders in the Netherlands, Groenhuijsen and Winkel (1991) found changes in participants' perceptions of the overall seriousness and adverse consequences of various crimes, and increases in victimization awareness. They concluded that "the program actually stimulates internal inhibition, and might thus contribute to reducing or preventing future offending." Launay and Murray (1989), in their assessment of the program at the Rochester Youth Custody Centre in the United Kingdom, found that following the program, offenders "rate victims more positively . . . and are then better at predicting both the attitude of victims towards burglars, and the impact of a burglary on its victim."

While participation in VAPs by juvenile offenders has been associated with positive changes in their knowledge and attitudes, the outcome measures used have been very closely related to the programs' contents and might not tap more general sociocognitive processes. The aim of the present study was to examine whether attending VAPs had any demonstrable effect on one of these sociocognitive processes, namely sociomoral reasoning maturity.



The treatment group consisted of delinquents attending three separate VAPs in two secure-care centers for young offenders in Adelaide, South Australia (22 males, 1 female; aged 14-18 years, M = 16.5 years). Control subjects were selected from other residents who had not previously attended VAPs (15 males; aged 14-18 years, M = 16.8 years).


Both treatment and control subjects were assessed using a measure of moral reasoning maturity - the Sociomoral Reflection Measure - Short Form (SRM-SF; Gibbs, Basinger, & Fuller, 1992).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Victim Awareness Programs for Delinquent Youths: Effects on Moral Reasoning Maturity


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?