Imagine carrying a sign in front of the local courthouse that reads: “I stole from a local store.”
Imagine doing that at 12pm. Under the hot beating sun. With sweat dripping down your forehead. For two hours.
If you get caught stealing and you end up in Putnam County Judge Peter Miller's courtroom, that just might be your punishment.
”It is better than going to jail, but it's not fair,” said Rashane Lewis, who was arrested for being the lookout in a Wal-Mart while a friend of hers took some children clothes.
Over the past twelve years, Judge Miller has sentenced over 600 people to these unusual punishments either outside the courthouse or at the store where the incident took place. Walking around with an embrassing sign is his preferred method to deal with shoplifters.
According to the administration of the Putnam Count probation system has said only three of Judge Miller's sign carriers has repeated their offense. He, along with other judges around the United States believe that public penitence, involving some sort of public humiliation works to rehabilitate convicted offenders.
‘If you see someone marching up and down in front of a store, you may think twice before stealing. I'm not going to say it is going to prevent it, but it will stop the one who did it from doing it again,” said Judge Miller.
He gives the offenders an option. Take a 30-60 day jail sentence or endure two hours of public embarassment. Along with their choice, they must perform 25 hours of community service, they have six months of probation and they are fined $294.
Like I mentioned earlier, Judge Miller isn't the only judge in the U.S. to have these unusual and creative sentencing ideas.
Take Ohio Municipal Court Judge Michael A. Cicconetti in Painesville for example. Teens had yelled “Pigs” to some local police officers. He had the teens stand on a busy street corner with a pig and a sign reading, “This is not a police officer.” He had three men who were arrested for soliciting prostitution wear chicken suits and carry a sign with them that read, “There is no chicken ranch in Painesville.” He also sentenced a couple who stole a baby Jesus statue from a manger to dress up as the Virgin Mary and Joseph and walk around Painesville with a donkey at their side.
In Harris County, Texas Judge Larry Standley had a man who hit his wife take yoga classes as a form of anger management.
In San Francisco, a man convicted of mail fraud was sentence by a judge to walk outside of a post office with a sign reading, “I stole mail. This is my punishment.”
“We don't like it, but what he does is legal,” says Assistant Public Defender Mack Brunton. “It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that this is his way to encourage them not to do it again. It seems to work fairly well.” When defendents are given the option of either jail or carrying a sign, most people “cringe.”
“They hate it. They would rather jump off a cliff than carry the sign. They would pay more money. They would swim the English Channel,” says Mr. Brunton.
There is precedent for these public humiliation sentences in history, so don't think this is anything new. Back in colonial times, those that broke the law were made to sit in stocks, which consisted of a frame in which the culprit's hands and/or feet were confined while the offender remained seated. Villagers would taunt these people and throw rotten fruits and vegetables. And yes, they would sometimes even throw excrement. That's when you know your neighbors really don't like you.
A Connecticut professor at the Quinnipiac University School of Law named Quilliam V. Dunlap has researched cases that end in an usual sentence. He hasn't come across any studies that reveal anything about whether jail time or public humiliation is a better crime deterrent.
”They don't amount to cruel and unusual punishment. They are unusual, but most of them as not as cruel as sending someone to jail or prison,” said Mr. Dunlap.
Even though it may be preferable to jail time, those that have to undergo the humiliation don't seem to like it. “This is just a humiliating stunt,” said Wal-Mart shoplifter Rashane Lewis.