Exploring the construct of moral injury in the criminal justice system
: practitioners’ and service users’ views

  • Ben Maddocks

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This compilation thesis aimed to commence the original exploration of MI in those who have perpetrated violent criminal behaviour. MI may occur following traumatic events which violates a person’s moral beliefs (Litz et al., 2009). The concept originated from within military personnel, and this distinct type of trauma can lead to significant distress resulting in the emergence of guilt, shame, self-condemnation, guilt, distrust, and other negative outcomes (Jamieson et al., 2020).
However, despite established evidence that suggests experiencing trauma increases the likelihood of engaging in offending (Baglivio & Epps, 2016), and the need to understand offender behaviour from a trauma perspective (Miller & Najavits, 2012), the exploration of MI in those who perpetrate violent criminal acts remains absent.
Therefore, this thesis aimed to examine whether MI has utility in individuals who perpetrate violent offences, by undertaking two qualitative empirical research studies. Chapter one introduces and explores the MI concept and discusses the current evidence base. Chapter two sought to provide rationale and justification for the investigation of MI in those who perpetrate criminal violence. These chapters are presented as a general introduction for each empirical study presented in this thesis.
Chapter three consists of the first empirical study, which aimed to understand how practitioners with experience of working in a forensic assessment and treatment context conceptualised MI in those who perpetrate violent criminal behaviour. Chapter four is the second empirical study, which examined how individuals who have been convicted of violence made sense of and experienced potentially morally injurious events they may have faced. These chapters are structured in an academic journal article style format.
Chapter five presents a general discussion of the theses main findings and the potential implications for forensic practice. Finally, a reflective epilogue of the thesis journey is presented in chapter six.
This thesis sought to contribute to the gap in the literature by exploring, and subsequently identifying, preliminary evidence for the utility of MI in the forensic context. It highlights the importance of intersubjectivity in understanding and considering MI in those who perpetrate criminal violence and discusses implications for clinical forensic practice.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorAdrian Paul Charles Needs (Supervisor)

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