There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of public humiliation as a form of effective punishment, with its critics terming it a harsh yet futile. The use of humiliation an incentive for proper behavior goes against the human psychology. It is a well known fact that people are wary of embarrassment, and this fear often steers them to do the right thing. One is likely to do something wrong so long as they are sure that nobody will ever find out about it. Therefore, the principle is the use of humiliation as a way to induce shame and fear and thus, controlling crimes by instilling a sense of remorse and responsibility while at the same time, acting as an instrument from deterring the general public from committing crime.
The effectiveness of imprisonment as a way of correction and rehabilitation has often been questioned as most prisoners are likely to repeat their crimes on release and this nothing to restore the faith of America in the system (Lazano, 2002). The psychological punishment also involves no interaction with other criminals, and this is without a doubt a plus. This approach however would work with certain criminals such as drug users, gamblers and white collar criminals such as tax evaders. It would also work with the younger generation who are status conscious.
Public humiliation is the main theme of the 1850 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawtorne in which an adulterous character wore an A for her vice on her breast for life. In 2003, Cathy Booth wrote an article called A New Scarlet Letter that highlight the plight of Gabriel Trevino, a sex offender who opted for a five year probation rather than imprisonment after he admitted to making the grave error of fondling with a 14 year old girl. This also meant that he had to post as 18 by 24 inch notice that read “danger, registered sex offender lives here”. However, three years later, he had second thoughts about the option he took; it began to look like prison might have been preferable. This was because despite the fact that he was the offender, his family was also paying the price of public mortification (Booth, 2003).
District Judge Manuel Banales was responsible for the ruling that demanded the posting of warning signs by sex offenders on probation. This, he said, would ensure the honesty of the likes of Trevino as they would be under the watch of the community. Banales also passed the use of bumper stickers and placards carrying the same warning message and consequently, his rulings sparked controversy. The main issue that the offenders rights were being violated by branding that had a spill over effect on the families of the offenders. However, for Michael Hubacek, charged with intoxicated manslaughter said that public humiliation was beneficial to him and helped him to atone himself. Therefore if the public humiliation approach assists in the correction even one offender, then it can be ranked as a success.
The use of public humiliation as a way of instilling social discipline is in many ways highly effective. In comparison to prisons, it is a very cost effective way of restoring the moral order in any society. It also reassures the public of the punishment of offenders as this reaffirms the general societal moral attitude. However, it lacks effectiveness if the offender in question has no moral inclination whatsoever.