Criminal Law Blogs Discuss Shaming Punishments

John Kelso’s humor column about why the Travis County Jail won’t adopt Mason County’s “pink jumpsuits for inmates policy” provides me with a viable Austin segue for the recent criminal law blogosphere’s discussion about shaming punishments.

Doug Berman is in favor of them, at least when the only alternative seems to be meeting out unreasonably long sentences.

Corrections Sentencing points out the two motivations behind shaming: teaching the offender to contemplate his place in the community vs. vindictive self righteousness. I agree that it’s a fine line.

Poverty Lawyer questions the fairness of publishing photos (pretrial, mind you) of johns caught in prostitution stings.

Dan Markel argues in The Economist that shaming punishments undermine human dignity, and follows up with a seven part series about them.

The comments section alone of Orin Kerr’s contribution to the discussion at Volokh would make for a good day’s worth of reading.

My take on it? Let’s read a quote from the Houston Chronicle’s story on the pink jumpsuit controversy:

Three county inmates in the jail here lay on their bunks, not saying much.  They wore pink jumpsuits and pink slippers, and one was wrapped in pink sheets.  They were surrounded by pink bars and pink walls.  They were not comfortable.

Despite the cramped condition of the tiny jail, the inmates said sitting there was better than working outside, where they might be seen by people they know.  Using pink uniforms in a pink jail is a small step to deter inmates from ever wanting to spend more time in the Mason County Jail, which might be getting too old to operate, said Sheriff Clint Low.

"The county would have more inmate labor without them," said one inmate, who did not want to be identified. "I'm not going outside in these things. It's a good deterrent because I don't want to wear them anymore."

This is a complex issue, and this quote provides us with reasons pro and con, and in just a few short sentences.  The inmates express their intent to never return to jail, but to the extent that they refuse to participate in a work program that would get them released earlier.  How bad could sitting in that pink jail be, if it's better than being supervised outdoors picking up trash in return for days, weeks or even months off their sentence?

I’m not sure the value lost in trustee labor (to both the community and the defendant) is worth the future deterrent effect these inmates are predicting.  All inmates I've ever met have expressed their intentions to never return.  

But, if we're talking about alternatives to unreasonably long prison sentences for non violent offenders, I’m open to almost any other option available…

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