Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Humiliation Comes Back as Criminal Justice Tool

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Humiliation Comes Back as Criminal Justice Tool

Article excerpt

In Houston, a man is sentenced to stand in front of a store each day for a week carrying a sign that says: "I stole from this store. Don't be a thief or this could happen to you."

In Fort Pierce, Fla., a child molester was recently ordered to post a sign at his home warning children away.

In Milwaukee yesterday, a convicted drunk driver had the option of a reduced jail sentence if he paraded for 50 days through the business district wearing a sandwich board proclaiming his crime. Across the country, judges are increasingly turning to a brand of justice not used widely since Colonial times: public shame. Instead of serving lengthy jail terms, offenders ranging from drunk drivers to spouse abusers are being subject to embarrassment and condemnation for crimes they committed. The impetus for this contemporary version of the stockade is prison overcrowding, a belief that criminals show little remorse, and a sense that the system is not doing its job. Judges, public defenders, and many communities are also searching for alternatives to the expensive cost of incarceration. The jury is still out on whether shame sentencing will work in the 1990s, in part because it is being tried by relatively few judges, and it hasn't been studied closely. But some judges vow it's effective. "I have no stats, but people I've imposed this type of sentence on haven't been back through the system," says Ted Poe, a state judge in Houston. Steven Dodd, who lives in Onalaska, Texas, has firsthand experience with a "shame sentence." After the FBI picked him up in 1990 for abducting his children, Mr. Dodd found himself in Judge Poe's courtroom, where he was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 20 hours a month shoveling horse manure at the stables of the Houston mounted police. "Judge Poe felt as though I had no respect for the law, that I had a bad attitude, and this would give me time to think about it," says Dodd, who worked in the stables for six years and served 120 days of his jail term. "At first it was demeaning ... then I approached it as another job. Other people in there get paid for doing this ... and I was happy to be out of jail. You pick yourself up because you can't keep wallowing in with the pigs." Shame sentences vary from those that require public apologies to self-debasement penalties that involve rituals that disgrace the offender, says Dan Kahan, a law professor at the University of Chicago. But judges aren't the only ones using these practices. Public humiliation has increasingly become a weapon cities are brandishing against sex offenders and drunk drivers. Several years ago Miami emblazoned the names of convicted johns on freeway billboards around the city. Spokane, Wash., televises the names and addresses of arrested drug buyers on its city cable channel. …

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