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Public Shaming as an Appropriate Form of Criminal Punishment

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In the novel, Feet of Clay (1996), The City Watch are in an attempt to solve the murders of the priest and baker and the poisoning of the Patrician, Lord Vetinari. The crimes are supposedly done by the “king” golem, Meshuggah, who is created to bring peace to the world and treat everyone fairly. These murders were an example of crime – crime that was done stealthily and sneakily to prevent suspicion of the identity of the criminal.

Pratchett’s statement about punishment for crimes needing to be made public might not seem out of today’s world. This is because making punishment public means making a crime transparent and exposing it to everyone. Making these punishments transparent ensures that the criminal is accountable or at least perceived to have paid the price for it. However, this raises three questions: Why should punishment be made public, to what extent should it be made public and what are the possible implications for either situations?

The current reality is that most governments, do not publicly punish criminals for their actions. However, public punishment was a common punishment from the beginning of European colonization through the 19th century but fell out of common use in the 20th century. However, although public shaming was a common punishment in the 19th century, it has been been a form of punishment in some places since ancient times and has been very effective in many situations. This is because people do not like to be humiliated as they might be looked down upon when in public. For example, a robber losing the hand he stole with through public executions was an effective form of punishment that deterred both the offender and the people watching from ever committing that crime again as no one would want to end up in the situation as the criminal. This helped to strike fear into the public and thus serving its purpose, which is to ensure other people from not wanting to end up like the offender or be humiliated in public.

This also makes criminals more aware of the consequences of their crimes through which induces guilt (through shame) into criminals pushing them to reform. This is because the criminal announcing to the world what he has done is a serious blow to his pride and reputation as no one likes to be looked down upon and judged by others. People are afraid of judgement and criticism when it sheds them in a bad light. It also feels guilty and shameful, when people know about what you have done wrong and are judging you about it. It affects a criminal mentally to the fact that it deters him from committing the same action again as they do not want to give people another reason to look down on them. Moreover, having a serious blow to one’s pride is not something that is taken lightly by most people. According to the legalmatch law blog, “The principle behind public humiliation as punishment is simple. People don’t like being humiliated, and the prospect of facing public humiliation could perhaps serve as a stronger deterrent than more “severe” punishments like imprisonment or probation. And, enforcing a court order to stand outside a business holding a sign for a few weeks is probably far cheaper for the state than keeping a person in prison or on probation for months or years.” Thus, public punishment is done to make criminals feel generally diminished, worthless leading to remorse and regret and mainly wanting to make make reparations, deterring a crime from being commited again by the perpetrator.

However, it can be argued that punishments should not be made public as the criminals might go through emotional turmoil when getting shamed which could lead to depression or even people comitting suicide. This is because they will be judged for the rest of their lives after punished publicly. This shame could lead to them feeling that they have been neglected from society which would lead to self-harm of them. An example is Ross Bullock, 38, a forklift driver who was wongly accused of having raped a woman despite texts that proved the sex was consensual. He was arrested and questioned the following month after the sex, by the cops as the woman claimed of being raped by him. However, after Mr Bullock showed officers the texts, he was told by the police that they wouldn’t be taking action, but warned that he could still be charged at a later date. This affected him mentally and took a toll on his mind as people who knew him shed him on a bad light although he was falsely accused. After a ‘year of torment’, Mr Bullock hanged himself in his garage and left a note saying he had ‘hit rock bottom’ and that he would be ‘free from this living hell’. His mum Carole, 74, who tragically found her son’s body, told the newspaper: ‘The allegation changed Ross as a person. He cut himself off.’ As Imam Hussain once said, “Death with dignity is better than life with humiliation”. As the quote suggests, one would rather die than live after being shamed. Furthermore, when one is publicly punished, the victim is also to get affected if their particulars are to be leaked as they would also be talked down upon by the public and be excluded from society. Therefore, some say that punishments should not be made public to not affect both the criminal and the victim’s health.

Due to the reason of mental health being affected through public shaming, some suggest that punishments inflicted should be in accordance to the crime committed as public shaming might not be appropriate for all crimes. This is because one would not want to see a murderer on the street holding an ‘I killed someone!’ sign as the perpetrator deserves a more severe consequence as he has taken one’s life away. However, in cases of robbery for example, public shaming works as a deterrent to crime as it although would shed one in a bad light, it was a crime that was victimless. Therefore, it would still give opportunity and possibility to ‘fix’ themselves. However, in the murderer scenario, stigmatised shaming which is discussing the person’s behaviour in a way that will make them feel incurably flawed which would not lead to a positive outcome as it would result in unresolved feelings of shane, giving no pathway for them to ‘fix’ themselves.

Additionally, a punishment should be made public, according to the perpetrator’s mens rea- the criminal’s mental state when committing the crime. This is because crimes could be done unintentionally or the person committing the crime could be mentally unstable. This is because, publicly punishing people who did crime unintentionally is unjust would eventually result in the scenario of Bullocks. On the other hand, publicly punishing a mentally unstable criminal would not result in any change as the person would not be metally affected to change their ways. Thus, one’s mens rea and crime committed should be looked at before deciding to punish them publicly.

Therefore in conclusion, public punishment is an appropriate form of criminal punishment. However, for the punishment to be appropriate the perpetrator’s mens rea and mental should be looked at and most importantly, the punihsment must be just and effective to some degree. If the punishment is not just, it should not be carried out as not only would it be cruel to the criminal, but also to the onlookers especially in cases of public shaming. Thus, punishments should be made public, but only to a certain extent.

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