Shaming offenders

The shaming of offenders has been in existence since the late 18th century. It was a form of corrections that was used to serve justice by offenders who had committed criminal acts. Offenders who had committed crimes against person or property were likely to be handed a sentence of shaming. In lieu of serving a sentence in a cell or incapacitated place, an offender could be sentenced to some degree of public punishment that would attempt to reform the offender and help him see the error of his ways. Popular methods of late 18th century shaming included “the whipping post, the pillory, stocks, branding, banishment, the dunking stool, and the use of the brank.” All of these devices were used to demonstrate public shaming of the offender. Common reasons that would incorporate the use of shaming would be “blasphemy, adultery, failure to observe the Sabbath, and a general laziness.” All of these punishments were used to help re-instill popular religious beliefs and bring back the good of a person into society. Lo and behold, shaming must have some positive attributes to it because it still exists in the present day. Instead of judges issuing jail/prison sentences, many offenders will receive some form of probation. Of course, this all depends on the seriousness of the crime. Judges tend to use probation on offenders in hopes of bringing them full circle from being a criminal to an integral part of society. Plus, a judge has more discretion in the use of probation as a form of corrections than with incarceration. Just as in any form of corrections, there exists four main goals that are to be achieved in some way, shape, or form. In order for the offender to feel the intended outcomes of shaming, he must experience one of the following effects. Shaming serves the purpose of achieving the goals of “deterrence, rehabilitation, restitution, and protection of the public.” Albeit, not all of the goals may be achieved at once. But an offender must feel some effect from the shaming process in order for it to be functional. According to Douglas Litowitz and his article “Shaming Offenders”, any for of public humiliation serves all four goals of corrections consecutively. The rehabilitation process is met by the admission of the offender’s guilt. Restitution is achieved by having the offender publicly apologize for the wrong doings that have been committed against the general public. The goal of deterrence is met by the humiliation of the shameful act that must be performed by the offender. Protection of the public is made visible to all in society by the shameful act being visible to all those around. If the shaming of an offender carries out one of the four purposes listed above, then it has done its job. Or has it? There are many people out there that feel that shaming does not help reduce crime and the recidivism rates of criminals. In the Litowitz reading, it says that the shaming of an offender will only work if the offender knows what shame is. It is a case of a person possessing the concept and emotion of shame. Those who have it or know what it brings can be deterred from the shaming experience. But for those who are foreign to shame, the process of shaming is of little to no use. Offenders who do not know what shame is are more likely to exhibit ulterior emotions such as frustration and anger when undergoing the shaming process. Their conscience cannot process the ideas of embarrassment and guilt. Therefore the process of shaming that particular non-emotional offender would not be of use. Plus, it is almost impossible to tell which offenders possess a conscience and emotions and which do not. How does a judge know which offender to impose shaming on and which not to? What is good for one client is not always good for the other.
As stated above, the same shaming process that was used in the late 18th century is still being used today. Granted they are different degrees of shaming. But the original concept and idea are still true to their original form. Instead of offenses of blasphemy and adultery, shaming is now used for such criminal acts as driving under the influence, theft, soliciting prostitution, and battery. Far away from the days of the stockade and the whipping post, now signs in front yards, cleansing of public roads, and other modern forms of shaming have now been implemented in modern day probation. Along with the change in eras, comes a whole new course of legal issues that have been raised by offenders. Does shaming violate an offender’s constitutional right and does shaming serve its intended purpose? There are many individuals that feel shaming violates a persons 1st and 8th amendments in the United States Constitution and this same question has been brought up in the courts. But every time, the courts have ruled that there is no violation of constitutional rights and the idea of shaming offenders has been upheld. Until there has been the implementation of a better plan or concept, I for one feel that the concept of shaming is a warranted and just act.
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