The right kind of shame for crime prevention

Date

1997

Authors

Sherman, Lawrence W
Strang, Heather

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Abstract

As American judges move steadily towards greater humiliation and stigma as punishments for convicted offenders, the Australian Federal Police in Canberra are showing that shame does not require humiliation. In hundreds of drink driving and young offender cases over the past two years, the AFP have adopted alternative restorative justice techniques recommended by ANU Professor John Braithwaite. Professor Braithwaite has defined two different kinds of shame. One kind is stigmatic shaming, which disintegrates the moral bonds between the offender and the community. The other is reintegrative shaming, which strengthens the moral bonds between the offender and the community. Stigmatic shaming is what American judges employ when they make an offender post a sign on his property saying "a violent felon lives here", or a bumper sticker on his car saying "I am a drunk driver". Stigmatic shaming is designed to set the offender apart as an outcast for the rest of the offender's life. By labelling him or her as someone who cannot be trusted to obey the law, stigmatic shaming says the offender is expected to commit more crimes. Professor Braithwaite's alternative to stigmatic humiliation is to condemn the crime, not the criminal. It gives offenders the opportunity to re-join their community as law-abiding citizens. In order to earn that right to a fresh start, offenders must express remorse for their past conduct, apologise to any victims and repair the harm caused by the crime. Canberra police have adopted Professor Braithwaite's principles by diverting confessed offenders from court to a more intense, personal (and lengthy) alternative known as Diversionary Conferencing. In these conferences, which are convened by a police officer, offenders, their family and friends, and their victims or a community representative all actively participate. Conferences focus on the crime rather than the criminal, drawing out the bad consequences of the crime and planning how best to make up for them. If the offender agrees to the group's proposals for restoration, the police then monitor the offender's compliance in carrying out that plan. If offenders do not keep their promises, then these cases can be referred for prosecution, but nothing said during the conference can be used in a court. Professor Braithwaite predicts that this kind of shaming and restoration will be more successful at preventing repeat offending than current methods, where most courts ignore shame most of the time, maintaining the dignity of legal process without unpacking the emotional forces resulting from the crime. These two approaches have never before been compared for their effectiveness at crime prevention.

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Keywords

shaming, diversionary conferencing, reintegrative shaming, Canberra ACT

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Working/Technical Paper

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