Public Shaming

Over the last week, I have heard about 20 commercials from our local prosecutor's office informing me that there is a web site I can visit with pictures of drunk drivers.  Uh, why?  Is this supposed to somehow help me, driving down a street at night, such that I might just recognize the oncoming driver from 300 yards away, despite his headlights, as being someone I saw on the web site?

Actually, no.  The prosecutor believes that the criminal justice system does not impose harsh enough penalties, so he is using his office and public funds to add an additional penalty not specified by the court or the legislature: Public shaming.  I was happy to see that Reason picked up this issue today:

Taking Thomas at his word, he is imposing extrajudicial punishment,
based on his unilateral conclusion that the penalties prescribed by law
for DUI offenses provide an inadequate deterrent

In addition, Mr. Thomas is very likely emulating the example of our self-aggrandizing county Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.  Sheriff Joe has built a PR machine for himself at public expense, in large part through extra-legal get-tough-on-criminals show-campaigns like this one. 

  • bryan

    I see in arizona you also have "DUI chain gangs" wearing pink t-shirts burrying corpses? I thought that was an "interesting" punishment?

  • http://www.snavemij.com jimevans_2000

    What bothers me even more than posting the pictures of DUI offendors are the newspapers that print Child Support offenders, and web sites that have the "Top Ten Deadbeats." For example, http://www.mdhs.state.ms.us/mswant.html has their top ten list, and a cursory look reveals that 6 of these ten have "unknown" occupations - which usually means they're unemployed, while 2 work construction, one's a truck driver, and one works drywall. Note that there are no high-flying lawyers, doctors, or financial investors listed, no highly paid but morally bankrupt dads who've abandoned their children intentionally. And these poor (probably uneducated) blokes owe an average of $30,000 in back support, an arrearage that they will likely never be able to get caught up on. The drywall guy alone owes more than $75,000. And somehow, posting these uneducated, un- or under-employed fathers pictures or names in the newspaper (like they do in Louisville, KY - see http://www.topix.com/forum/city/louisville-ky/TJ340BT2DVETKAPNP) is supposed to enable them to cough up the money? I think it's horrendous that we are shaming people in this way.

  • http://www.babytrollblog.com Mark Alger

    How exactly does this differ from vigiliantism? You know -- "taking the law into your own hands"?

    M

  • Rob (another Rob)

    To take a dangerous (from the tenor of other the post and other comments) position, I think that public shaming is a good idea.

    The point about the rich and famous getting off the hook is a good one. This should not occur and yet it always seems to - Teddy is (and has been for a long time) in the Senate...

    Shame, the approbation of one's peers and associates , may be a very potent force in getting control of problems. The stocks and the scarlet letter were about shame. Taking someobdy out of the workforce (assuming they were working) and dropping their sorry a-- in jail may only serve to strengthen their negative direction. (Lord, I sound like a lib!) Hanging with folks of like kind will not likely make one think ill of one's mis-deeds, just getting caught. In addition, it places a burden on the system, that would be us.

    Don't remove them from the labor pool unless they are dangerous (and then consider removing them from the gene pool - there, now that sounds more like it). Don't put their families in jeopardy of losing a home/living.

    DO make them aware of how little society at large thinks of their actions and them.

    This should have an effect on recitivsm (sp?) and a chilling effect on other possible offenders.

    The method of shame now used is needed, because the "town/village" is too big, to decentralized for shame to work in that manner.

    I really like the convicted drunks digging graves for those who die as a result of their drinking. We live in such a consequence free world that this offers the opportunity for these knuckleheads to see the consequences and maybe straighten up.

    I guess that is the bottom line, "What are the consequences of dysfunctional behavior?" "What works best in dissuading folks from engaging in such?" Prison is best used for dangerous folks. Can we find another (less expensive and more effective) way to correct these bad but not dangerous behaviors?

    Damn! I am sounding like a lib again. Trust me, dessert island with supply drops for the dangerous ones... (and more than a few politicians... ahem..).

    I am frustrated with the criminal justice system, such that I have become a fan of Joe A. if for no other reason that at least he is trying something different.

  • bryan

    Rob, I don't think the problem is necesarily with the tactic, like a previous poster noted, it is with the vigilantism of the prosecutors in question. If shame can be shown to be a lawfull and effective means to control certain crimes, its use should be legislated and the new rules should be applied fairly.
    The idea that a prosecutor can make up his own extracurricular punishments and apply them willy nilly is a little scary to me.

  • Bearster

    Are criminal records public or private? If public, then anyone has the right to publish them on a website--even a prosecutor or sheriff. It's not "extra punishment" in the sense of additional jail time, hard labor, or beatings not prescribed by a court of law.

  • Tom

    "Are criminal records public or private? If public, then anyone has the right to publish them on a website--even a prosecutor or sheriff. It's not "extra punishment" in the sense of additional jail time, hard labor, or beatings not prescribed by a court of law."

    I'm sure he's doing this on his own time and on his own dime. Not enough to do on the weekends, I assume.

  • Jim Collins

    Bearster,
    I'd agree with you if the DA posted everybody who comitted a crime on his website. Singling out just one group is BS. That makes it extra punishment. I wonder if anyone has been omitted because of say "political connections"? I do have a problem with the personal information that might be on this website.

    Allegheney County in the State of Pennsylvania was posting Property Tax Assesments on their website for a while, until the local Judges, Politicians and Police found their names and addresses on the website. You wouldn't believe how fast the information came down! I have no problem with this type of information being public, but I've always liked that someone had to go to the Courthouse ans show ID to be able to view it.

  • Bearster

    Jim: do people who accept the job of DA lose rights that are inalienable to the rest of us? Or should it be illegal for the rest of us to selectively exercise a right to publish information?

    If there is any such thing as the freedom of speech and of the press, then that necessarily implies selectively speaking and printing, doesn't it?

  • Mark

    I think shaming is an appropiate part of a criminal penalty, but it should not be done in an extra-legal manner. That is, to have their picture published because they have broken a law must be part of the sentencing.

    And, the shaming must have some connection with results. Publishing the pictures of people whose personal conduct is reprehensible or dangerous, like drunk driving and sexual misconduct, might inhibit and deter others from engaging in that conduct. Shaming a "dead beat" dad that cannot pay his child support is another story.

    Public retribution MUST be part of any criminal sentence, but it must also be weighed to meet the ends of the public.

  • http://www.babytrollblog.com Mark Alger

    Bearster;

    A public prosecutor, acting as an agent of the state, most certainly does NOT have the same rights as the rest of us. As an agent of the state, he is bound and limited by the law -- imprimis, the Constitution. The law -- made by duly-constituted legislatures -- prescribes punishments for crimes. Minima and maxima. Terms, modes, methods. Prosecutors are not given the authority to exceed those limits. It can even be argued that judges should not, though such an argument faces a stiff headwind.

    Given that our present methods and modes of punishment were enacted to supplant public shaming (e.g., pillories, et al), I would suggest that the prosecutor in question has most definitely exceeded his lawful authority.

    And... what the prosecutor did may be unlawful under Federal statute, specifically 18 USC 242 and 243. Or, if civil rights were not specifically violated, some other related statute dealing with abuse of official power.

    M

  • http://www.snavemij.com Jim Evans

    Bearster, the shaming of men on child support lists is in reality shaming men for being poor and uneducated. This is, imo, morally and ethically indefensible. The excuse given by proponents of these shaming lists is that they're simply trying to collect child support owed by deadbeats, but Glenn Sacks, in writing on this issue, says that "Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement data shows that two-thirds of those who owe child support nationwide earned less than $10,000 in the previous year. According to the largest federally funded study of divorced fathers ever conducted, unemployment, not willful neglect, is the largest cause of failure to pay child support. A US Government Accounting Office survey of custodial mothers who were not receiving the support they were owed found that two-thirds of those fathers who do not pay their child support fail to do so because they are indigent." Is it really appropriate to shame people who's biggest fault is being unemployed? Should we start publishing the photos and occupations of people who are declaring bankruptcy or having their homes foreclosed on? Why is that idea any less ludicrous than what's being done here?

    The pot of child support gold which officials profess they’ll find if they get tough on deadbeats simply does not exist if you consider that these men aren't paying because they can't pay. Consider this; in our country, a person can't go to jail for being in debt - unless the debt happens to be child support. Shaming and jailing a man who can't pay child support because he's uneducated and can't find work (not to mention taking his driver's license or trade license so he CAN'T work) is just wrong and is NOT about justice at all.

  • http://www.snavemij.com Jim Evans

    Bearster, the shaming of men on child support lists is in reality shaming men for being poor and uneducated. This is, imo, morally and ethically indefensible. The excuse given by proponents of these shaming lists is that they're simply trying to collect child support owed by deadbeats, but Glenn Sacks, in writing on this issue, says that "Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement data shows that two-thirds of those who owe child support nationwide earned less than $10,000 in the previous year. According to the largest federally funded study of divorced fathers ever conducted, unemployment, not willful neglect, is the largest cause of failure to pay child support. A US Government Accounting Office survey of custodial mothers who were not receiving the support they were owed found that two-thirds of those fathers who do not pay their child support fail to do so because they are indigent." Is it really appropriate to shame people who's biggest fault is being unemployed? Should we start publishing the photos and occupations of people who are declaring bankruptcy or having their homes foreclosed on? Why is that idea any less ludicrous than what's being done here?

    The pot of child support gold which officials profess they’ll find if they get tough on deadbeats simply does not exist if you consider that these men aren't paying because they can't pay. Consider this; in our country, a person can't go to jail for being in debt - unless the debt happens to be child support. Shaming and jailing a man who can't pay child support because he's uneducated and can't find work (not to mention taking his driver's license or trade license so he CAN'T work) is just wrong and is NOT about justice at all.

  • Mark

    How about this, if we are going to resort to such means as shaming poor fathers because they cannot pay their child support, how about we actually make the divorce laws fair.

    LEt me tell you about a few things that happens when you get divorced.

    First, in the divorce decree the judge may assign your ex-spouse certain debts that both of you owed. However, if they do not pay these debts the negative credit information impacts your credit rating. Then, if your ex-spouse declares bankruptcy like mine did, you and only you will be responsible for those debts.

    Second, when a mortgage company looks at your financials they consider all of your child support/alimony payments to be DEBT payments. So, this means that all of your ratios are completely out of balance. Most mortgage companies will lend up to 28% of your gross income, but in my state I had to pay 30% of my net (or about 20% of my gross) as child support, plus day care support, plus alimony. This meant that it was impossible to get a mortgage because of these payments exhausted my debt to income ratio.

    THird, the bias of the system against men is easily demonstrated. The percentage of women who get custody and financial arrangements dwarfs that given to men and the system is totally rigged against men.

    Two examples that happened in my case. The first, our state values the assets of the divorce at time of separation. In the three subsequent years real estate values increased substantially. All of that real estate appreciation was treated as if it never occured and the house was given to my ex. The cumulative $100,000 in appreciation was simply given to her without any compenstation given to me.

    Second, our second child was adopted. We had a "home study" evaluation done one year prior to our divorce. During the divorce procedure and the child custody evaluation they used the fact that I had twice over the past 7 years relocated for work. That was as "proof" that my ex-wife used to bias the custody evaluation against me, implying more than directly that I abandoned the family. But when I tried to use the home study from the adoption in court it was ruled out as being irrelevant because it was not "current".....the fact that it was more current than the "proof" they used was treated as an absurd argument by the court.

  • Mark

    And to expand a little, when my ex got the house the judge declared it had only $30,000 in equity rather than $130,000. He "balanced" this situation my making her pay off the $30,000 or so in joint debt we had. But then she declared bankruptcy and stuck me with the debt.

    So, the real balance sheet, which in the judges fantasy world was balanced, had her getting a house with $130,000 in equity and I got $30,000 in debt. She got the house and I was stuck in a situation were I could not even get a mortgage because of her actions impacting my credit rating and the way the bank looked at my support payments.

    That is "justice" in the family court system.

  • http://www.snavemij.com Jim

    Yes, and further justice would be this; should you miss a child support payment, all she has do is call Child Support Enforcement and they'll begin the process of garnishing your wages, suspending your driver's license and your professional license, should you have one. This is without verifying that you did, indeed, miss a payment. Studies show that child support enforcement agencies have their records wrong about half the time. But anyway, all it takes is one free phone call to report that you missed a payment and the system begins to work on her behalf. But let's say you lose your job or get downsized or get hurt and can't work. Can you make one phone call and have your child support adjusted to show your loss of income? Absolutely not. You have to hire a lawyer (while you're unemployed?) to petition the court for a downward adjustment, and many, many times a judge will refuse to lower the amount. I can't tell you the number of guys who've told me the judge ruled that they'd pay CS based on their "potential income" rather than their actual income. So, based on all of this, you could get injured and not be able to work, fall behind in child support payments because you couldn't afford attorney fees to file a support mod, and lo and behold have your picture show up on one of these shaming lists.

  • Dan

    Do I have any rights as a father, to modify my child support case, based on my agent not informing me of my rights. Also mis leading info she would refer to the state concerning my income, when in fact I made way less then what she claimed I make from my job??? She informs me that when I get an increase in pay, child support will increase. But it took a different agent after two years of dealing with the agent I currently have, to tell me of my right to modify. But now I have this crap load of back pay to pay for health care (through M.A. medical assistance) and Day care, and also present amount with the other amount of child support that has been piling up do to lack of funds to barely take care of myself.HELP!!