A Deterrence Effect Of Public Shaming

“Only crimes could take place in the darkness punishments had to be done in the light” writes Terry Pratchet in his The Feet of Clay novel. When summarised the quote asks “Should information regarding punishments be publicised?”, which has received much contempt by people around the world. Public shaming could range from community service, publicising a criminals punishment or even the infliction of pain in public. Many argue against it stating a punishment seeks to recuperate the offender and that publicising punishments does not solicit such an outcome. Furthermore, in terms of ethicality, it is condemned as inhumane that infringes on the rights of a criminals privacy. In my opinion, although public shaming may seem unrighteous, following the utilitarian approach, revealing punishments to the majority, the public, yields more benefits than maintaining the rights of the minorities, the criminals. The knowledge of punishments implemented fosters a sense of security and trust amongst the citizens, acts as a form of deterrence and ensures the credibility of the law. However, it is potent that punishments are made public only if they are just and meted in accordance with the crime committed.

The impact of public shaming produces a deterrence effect which leads to the prevention of future crimes through the threat of punishment. Public punishments for crimes gives the public viewership of the ramifications faced by criminals and evokes fear in potential criminals since the threat seems more palpable when viewed in person. As sentient human beings, we are afraid of judgment and criticism ruining our reputation and social relationships. Thereby public humiliation makes the limits of the nation, the prison walls, as their lives transform into a dreadful experience. It dehumanizes the perpetrator and is akin to psychological punishment because it imposes an inevitable and aversive emotion onto the offender. Hence, public shaming keeps people not wanting to end up in the same predicament as the offender and therefore refrain from committing the crime. For example, Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Which is a result of the carefully upheld regulations that yield severe ramifications. In 1993, for instance, Micheal fay was an 18-year-old teenager who vandalised cars and stole road signs in Singapore. He was sanctioned to four months in jail, a $3,500 fine, and to be given 4 strokes of the rattan cane. The publicizing of such cases reminds the public that there are implications to their actions. This makes them more prone to be deterred from breaking the law as they know the punishment is severe and the chances of them getting caught are high. Therefore it deters others and serves as a reminder for potential criminals not to go against the law

Secondly, publicising information regarding punishments fosters a sense of security and maintains the citizens' trust in the government. It makes the criminal justice service, more transparent and accountable to the public, reassuring citizens the government is taking responsibility and actions against offenders. Instead of arbitrarily meting out punishments or letting them Scott-free. This trust develops into motivation, encouraging citizens to proactively report crimes they have witnessed. As publicizing information, resolves the misconception, that because punishments are not publicised there are little repercussions to one’s actions. Hence, for example, instead of assuming, reporting a crime would be pointless and would solicit no repercussions, crimes are more likely to be reported as the witnesses, the citizens, have faith the country’s criminal system will take punitive measures against them. For instance, a study found in the UK shows that 65% of citizens think that it is important for them to be provided with information regarding the sentences handed out to local offenders. This would result in the hindrance of crime rates due to the decrease in the numbers of undetected crimes. It also ensures the public is exposed to the common crimes committed, hence, will be warier increasing the communal safety. Moreover, when a crime occurs in a neighborhood, informing the public would enable them to feel safer as they will be wary of perpetrators living near them. Hence, exposing the repercussions faced by criminals enables the citizens to have confidence in their criminal system, which encourages public efforts to hinder crime and cultivates a sense of security.

Lastly, when the punishment is in accordance with the publics’ believe the law holds more credibility and is effectively enforceable which is only achievable if the knowledge of the punishment is publicised. Ensuring the punishment of the crime is in accordance with the views of the public enables the judicial system to sanction an unbiased penalty on the perpetrator. The publics’ views are potent in discerning whether a punishment is commensurate to the severity of the offense. For example, if a punishment is too lenient or harsh, public outrage will draw attention to the case, forcing the judicial court to reconsider a more appropriate punishment. Singaporean Law Professor Eugene Tan reinforces the idea by stating 'The law is an ass if it dishes out a prescriptive set of punishments. If that's the case, we might as well let a computer determine the punishment tariffs'. Hence there are various considerations to make when deciding whether to prosecute a criminal. Thus, numerous informed views from the public help to solicit a fairer punishment for the offender. However, if the penalties do not reflect the voices of the public and of those whom do not find it just, the law loses its credibility and would be viewed with contempt by the community. In 1991, for instance, Troy Davis was convicted of murder. Despite the many signs of innocence, he was wrongfully convicted and executed in the American state of Georgia. Because his case was made public, the U.S. judicial system received backlash and many people were encouraged to continue fighting, even after his death, for the justice of other wrongfully convicted criminals ensuring they received fair treatment. As a result, the death penalty was largely criticized by citizens, which resulted in the movement to abolish the death penalty. Therefore making the knowledge of the punishment public ensures governments sanction just and fair penalties, giving the law more credibility and making it easy to enforce.

Of course publicising punishments is not always good. For instance, the public can become desensitized as the continuous barrage of both minor and major crimes may undermine the severity of each case. Hence, in order for it to be effectively practiced, public punishments should be implemented in accordance with the crime. Thereby, only information regarding minor offenses such as victimless crimes should be publicised. While severe punishments of crimes consisting of murder and rape should not be publicised, as the numerous murderers showed to the public, on a daily basis, would only evoke an atmosphere of fear as the public would increasingly doubt their sense of security and public safety. In conclusion, the regulated publicising of punishments for specific crimes produces a deterrence effect. Secondly, it ensures the reliability of the law and that the criminals, receive impartial treatment. Lastly, it maintains the citizens' trust and sense of security in the government.

14 May 2021
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