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The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process

Abstract

The present study tested the proposition that disengagement of moral self-sanctions enables prison personnel to carry out the death penalty. Three subgroups of personnel in penitentiaries located in three Southern states were assessed in terms of eight mechanisms of moral disengagement. The personnel included the execution teams that carry out the executions; the support teams that provide solace and emotional support to the families of the victims and the condemned inmate; and prison guards who have no involvement in the execution process. The executioners exhibited the highest level of moral, social, and economic justifications, disavowal of personal responsibility, and dehumanization. The support teams that provide the more humane services disavowed moral disengagement, as did the noninvolved guards but to a lesser degree than the support teams.

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Correspondence to Michael J. Osofsky, Albert Bandura or Philip G. Zimbardo.

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Osofsky, M.J., Bandura, A. & Zimbardo, P.G. The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process. Law Hum Behav 29, 371–393 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10979-005-4930-1

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Keywords

  • executioners
  • jurors
  • moral agency
  • moral disengagement
  • social cognitive theory