Public humiliation as a crime deterrent

La - posted on 07/03/2010 ( 5 moms have responded )




I was watching a show on National Geographic channel called "Taboo" and it was talking about different forms of justice around the world. What I found interesting were the unconventional punishments dealt out by Texas Judge Ted Poe. What do you guys think about his style of deterring crime and punishing offenders? Is it cruel and unusual punishment (which is protected against in the constitution)?

A Lone Star State judge punishes criminals with sentences of shame -- a nineties version of the scarlet letter that has aggravated the ACLU.

It's 100 degrees at high noon in Houston, and Mike Hubacek's day of reckoning has arrived. Striding back and forth on a blistering-hot sidewalk outside the offices of the Department of Public Safety, the teenager tries to ignore a cluster of reporters and two TV cameras thrust in his face. He clutches a sign: "I killed 2 people while I was driving drunk on Westheimer."

Westheimer Road is one of the city's main thoroughfares where, in the early morning hours of Nov. 28, 1996, Hubacek was speeding with no headlights at 100 mph. He crashed into a van carrying a married couple and their nanny, scattering wreckage over hundreds of feet. The husband and nanny were killed; the wife survived with a broken collarbone and sternum, crushed thighs and wounds requiring 100 stitches.

Hubacek was instructed to carry the sign as part of the lengthy, detailed punishment ordered by Harris County State District Judge Ted Poe. "Most of us care what people think of us" Poe says. "If we're held up to public embarrassment, we don't like it. It does serve as a deterrent."

Poe, 49, is preeminent among a new breed of judge who believes in shaming, a form of justice common in colonial America that seems to be making a comeback. Poe has:

* Jailed a man convicted of domestic abuse and sentenced him to apologize publicly to his wife on the courthouse steps at noon. The audience of 450 people included newspaper and TV reporters and photographers, women from shelters and other defendants accused of wife beating.

* Sentenced a shoplifter to carry a sign for a week in front of Kmart pro claiming his theft. The store manager reported no thefts during that week. "I had seven days, eight hours a day to reflect on my life," the shoplifter told the judge. "I didn't want to continue this mode of self-destruction any more."

* Required a teenage graffiti tagger to apologize to the students at all 13 schools he vandalized. "The school officials liked that" Poe says.

The probation conditions Poe ordered for Hubacek received as much publicity as the case itself. After serving six months in jail for intoxicated manslaughter, Hubacek was ordered to attend 110 days of boot camp, erect a cross and a star of David at the scene of the wreck, maintain the crash site and carry a sign once a month for the next 10 years in front of high schools, bars and driver's-license offices proclaiming, "I killed two people while driving drunk."

The teenager also must keep photographs of the victims in his wallet for 10 years, refrain from driving for 10 years, stay inside Houston city limits, observe an autopsy of a person killed in a drunken-driving accident and send $10 every week for 10 years to a memorial fund in the names of the victims.

Every time Hubacek shows up to carry a sign, Barbara Davis, the wife of the man Hubacek killed, arrives with grim posters of the accident. Passersby cringe when they see them, but some people hug her. "God bless Ted Poe for being considered the renegade judge he is" says Davis."

But the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, looks askance at Poe's methods. "This is the scarlet-letter syndrome" says Joseph Jacobson, director of the ACLU's Austin affiliate. "It's a form of public humiliation. It's like putting people in stocks like in the old days. The central problem is it makes it that much more difficult for someone to integrate back into normal society.

The ACLU's Houston office has taken no complaints against the judge, however. In a state that spends about $2 billion a year on its prison system, Poe's methods are popular, admits Paul Maciekowich, Houston's ACLU chapter president. "Ted Poe is just the tip of the iceberg as to what the mentality is down here" he says. "Last year, more people were imprisoned for parole violations than for first-time offenses"

Poe, who wears black cowboy boots under his robe, is part of the local color in a state in which Wild West instincts endure. While serving as a Harris County prosecutor during the trial of a man who killed a police officer, he read the jury a Christmas card that the officer might have written to his daughter. In his eight years in that job, he never lost a case.

Elected to the bench in 1981, Poe, a Republican, has run without opposition since 1986. He ranked second of 22 judges in a 1993 Houston Bar Association poll rating their effectiveness.

"If we know history, we understand why people do what they do," Poe says. "I think the public punishment is what changes the conduct. It is a public service to the community that knows we won't stand for that conduct."

The judge, whose office includes a poster of Alcatraz, a painting of a scene from the battle of Gettysburg and a sign proclaiming, "I really don't care how you did it up north," has been known to make unrepentant offenders shovel manure at the police stables in west Houston for "attitude adjustment."

"We went through this error in the legal system when we didn't want to hurt [criminals'] feelings; we didn't want to hurt their self-esteem" says Poe. "But the world doesn't operate that way. We need to go back to another system: accountability for offenders. We have confused understanding crime with excusing crime"
I have no problems with convicted offenders being forced to parade around with signs detailing what they did wrong. They SHOULD be embarrassed for their extremely poor choices and behaviors. They SHOULD be made to feel remorseful and wrong for their actions. If they don't want to be known as "thieves, wife beaters, drunk drivers, etc" then they shouldn't have committed those crimes. Offenders who are sentenced by Judge Poe have less than 11% rate of recidivism as opposed to 31% recidivism in those who are released from prisons. To me this is not cruel and unusual punishment, this is simply taking responsibility for your actions.

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I bet this person will think long and hard before getting behind a wheel after drinking. I like that he has the victim's pictures in his wallet and that he must maintain the memorial at the crash site. It keeps his crime fresh in his mind.

In a nearby town, the parents of a middle school student did this to their daughter. She goofed off and failed eighth grade. They had her stand on the main road with a sign that said something to the effect of, "It's my fault I failed. I didn't study." The kid passed with A's and B's the next school year.

If we thought our worst or secret sins would be posted for all the world to see, don't you think we'd think twice before doing it?

Johnny - posted on 07/03/2010




Just in terms of the comment from the ACLU, "The central problem is it makes it that much more difficult for someone to integrate back into normal society." Really? I would think that spending a lengthy time imprisoned actually makes it more difficult to integrate back into normal society. In a way, forcing someone to publicly repent begins to create a dialogue between the perpetrator, the victim, and society that can be cathartic for all involved. And that is really the best way to avoid recidivism, which I'd like to think, is everyone's ultimate goal. Going to prison is often deserved, but it creates a deep division between the perpetrator and society. And often that chasm is what leads to the perpetrator finding it easy to re-offend. If they feel responsible and connected to society, knowing that they will be publicly held to task for their crimes, it could work. I think it is worth a shot, and I don't understand why the ACLU is so darned concerned with criminals being embarrassed. They should focus on human/civil rights, and I hadn't heard that not being humiliated was a human/civil right. If so, I guess it's time for me to launch some complaints.

Rosie - posted on 07/03/2010




i'm for this as well, however i don't really see it as a deterrant for future crimes. i can see how standing outside of a bar with a sign like that would deter somebody from driving drunk, but just a regular joe schmoe who hears about this type of punishment isn't going to think twice before they do something stupid, if people actually thought twice about shit, there would be waaaay less crime.

Sharon - posted on 07/03/2010




I am all for this. This hiding the identity of perpetrators is bullshit. Once you've killed someone, you have NO RIGHTS. Stealing from stores causes the prices to go up, jobs to be cut and public humiliation is a small price to pay on a personal level.

I think people caught in affairs should have to do something similar.

Sometimes the aclu are such shit heads. I can promise you - none of them lost a wife or child a drunk driver.

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