Recently, there was an article in our neighborhood newspaper discussing the concept of shaming law breakers instead of just throwing them in jail for a few months. Several judges have adopted this age-old form of punishment meaning for it to fit the crime. As a parent of 3 great kids, I can attest to this type of negative reinforcement. Looking at the inside of American schools, you will find student after student with serious disciplinary problems that are just rationalized away and dealt with superficially with a detention, a call home (possibly) and suspensions. Do these same students get repeated detentions, calls home (possibly), and suspensions? The answer is: Yes. Do they learn from these types of punishments? Some do, but there are a few that just find it funny. Especially since they get out of class, or better yet get a “vacation” for a few days; they are the repeat offenders. So do you think a bit of personal shame could be in order? Judges are using this type of punishment with success according to one of the judges who said that of the offenders that were jailed, many became repeat offenders as opposed to the shamed offenders who he hasn’t seen return to his court room. The author of this article, Janet Storm of the Daily reflector, acknowledges one such judge, Michael A. Cicconetti, Fairport Harbor, Ohio, who sentenced a couple of people to walking a donkey bearing a sign “Ohio, Sorry for the “jackass” offense” through the streets where they defaced and stole the baby Jesus statue from a nativity scene on Christmas Eve.
Researching this, I found an article from News Channel 5, in Cleveland, Ohio that showed where the punishments fit the crimes in every situation, from sitting in the woods for a period of time to appreciate silence for playing music way too loud, to spelling out an apology in coins to church members for stealing from their collection, to spending the day with a sign “See No Evil” and blinders on quietly across the street from the adult video store for stealing porn. The 18-year-old said in an interview, "I'm thankful that Judge Cicconetti gave me an opportunity instead of jail time."
Judge Cicconette’s philosophy is simply put: When you engage people and praise them for their good behaviour, not unlike children, it helps their self-esteem. My judicial philosophy is really not that much different from a parental philosophy. I have five children. You can paddle them or spank them but what do you gain? Most people want to be good but for little obstacles or habits. We have to change the habits and remove the obstacles. That’s our job.
The Judge also made a group of high school students who vandalized school buses throw a picnic for a group of grade-school students whose picnic was canceled because of their stunt.
Then Ms. Storm turns to a law professor by the name of Jonathan Turley from George Washington University who complains bitterly on several accounts how these judges are playing “little Ceasars” with the law and soon we will have the resurrection of public stocks and scarlet letters. All the while our jails are getting more and more over crowded with our local Sherriff stating recently that we need to build more jails due to overcrowding and the release of lesser criminals before their sentences are completed to make room for recent criminals…..what’s going to work? Doesn’t it warrant some creativity to see how we can see a decline in crime and offenders??
Witmer-Rich, a professor of criminal law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and other legal experts say unconventional punishments can be effective not only because the sentence puts shame on the offender, but also because it saves the public money from housing someone in jail or the offender from losing employment, which is harder for someone to gain after incarceration.
Witmer-Rich also said that “the punishments also allow the community to get involved and make the offender think intensely about the norms society expects when it comes to obeying laws.”
For the opinion of one person, Storm totally botches her article. I would say that if a few judges using creative sentences that actually fit the crime are making some headway to changing some hearts, then so be it! And let’s work on this pathway to reforming the criminal mind. Way back when, the paddle was used in schools as corporal punishment. It worked, now even parents can’t spank their own children in their own homes.
All the while our jails are filling up, more prisons are being built, and our courtrooms are crowded.