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Moral and Religious Influences - Shame Penalties

offenders public punishment convicted

Morality influences how much shame a person feels, or should feel, when committing a crime. In colonial America, punishment was handed out in public so the offender would experience shame and repent for his or her actions. These punishments involved whipping, branding, or being placed with the person's ankles and wrists in a wooden stock. Even hangings were conducted in public with the offender expected to offer an admission of guilt and ask forgiveness before being hung.

By the early nineteenth century punishment went behind the walls of the newly growing prison system. No longer was public humiliation and shame part of punishment. In the late twentieth century, however, as prisons filled and incarceration expenses rose steadily, society once more experimented with shame penalties. For example, convicted offenders of some nonviolent crimes, such as buying services from prostitutes, had to publicly apologize. Others had to wear T-shirts identifying their crime, such as shoplifting.

Shame penalties were applied to lesser white-collar criminals, first time offenders, and juvenile offenders, all guilty of nonviolent crimes. In some cases judges gave convicted offenders a choice between a shame penalty, a fine, or jail time. Critics began to question the legality of such practices, due to uncertainty about the psychological short- and long-term effects of public shaming.

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