Our Opinion: Punishment masquerades as public humiliation

News Tribune editorial

The use of “shame” punishments is a shame.

News stories have reported instances of judges offering humiliation as an alternative to more traditional punishments, including incarceration, fines and community service.

Among those options:

• A 13-year-old girl had her ponytail cut off in court in exchange for a reduction in community service. Her offense was cutting the hair of a 3-year-old girl.

• An abusive father was permitted to sleep in a doghouse as an alternative to serving jail time.

• Teens who broke into a church were sentenced to parade through town wearing signs of apology and escorting a donkey.

In many cases, the shame punishment is an option accepted by the offender.

But is it effective and is it appropriate?

We have not come across any studies indicating the comparative effectiveness of shame and traditional punishments.

We wonder, however, whether public shame leads to rehabilitation or resentment.

More important, however, is the question of whether shame punishments are appropriate.

We think not, because they often tend to emulate and perpetuate the offending behavior.

In the case of the teen whose ponytail was cut, Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University and a critic of shame punishments, said: “I fail to see how the court reducing itself to the level of a 13-year-old teaches a moral let alone a legal lesson. The court was doing precisely what the 13-year-old did to a child.”

Turley also argues shame punishments blur the line between justice and entertainment, not unlike television programs unlike “The People’s Court” and “Judge Judy.”

Shame punishments sometimes may work and discourage a repeat offense.

In most instances, however, they seem random, denigrating and counterproductive.


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