Monday, November 06, 2006

How Not to Shame

I've expressed reserved support for shaming as a possible alternative punishment to incarceration here, arguing that concerns about human dignity that favor putting people into our current jails and prisons over leaving them in the community where social stigma may reign in their behavior need to be more seriously discussed in this time of overincarceration. That said, however, I've also noted the difference between Braithwaite's "therapeutic shaming" and its restorative design and shaming to simply humiliate thinking that will deter. Here is a good example of the latter.

An indecent exposure guy, multiple priors, convicted after showing himself repeatedly to a 10-year-old. The judge decides to make him wear a t-shirt saying "I am a registered sex offender." AND sends him to jail for a term as well. Okay, so much for the alternative to incarceration. That in itself disqualifies it from what I've talked about. But it gets worse. "Registered sex offender"? You mean, like a rapist? Then let's beat the crap out of him. And was there any effort to restore the little girl who was targeted? This is what opponents of shaming are talking about and rightfully afraid of. It's also why I'm "reserved" in my support, as I think most people would be. One of those "in theory it's a good idea" things. Like the death penalty, which I also support for a few people (but not all, like Tim McVeigh who tried to kill me), the implementation may be so screwed up as to take the option off the table. Although I notice that the reporter talked to the defense attorney and the ACLU (who were predictably outraged with the predictable arguments) but didn't talk to the offender. Maybe he was willing to wear the shirt in return for not being locked up anymore than he had to be with those guys who are so fond of the integrity and dignity of sex offenders.

Still, this shows that we need more than a simple "it's good/it's bad" debate over shaming. It's being done, some with restoration in mind, some with just the pure, mindless meanness of this case. We can be as academic and philosophical as we want, but the practice is likely to expand without us and our thoughtfulness. Maybe it would be better if we got involved on a more practical level.

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