Shaming is an under-used resource in crime control. Discuss
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Shaming is an under-used resource in crime control. Discuss. It has been suggested that shaming is an under-used resource in crime control. This raises issues over what shaming is, how it works, and what affect it can have on crime control and crime rates. To address these questions, I begin by explaining what shaming is and how it is used in practice, looking at both retributive and reintegrative shaming. I move on to discuss the weaknesses and strengths of shaming, incorporating discussion of theories underpinning why people commit crimes for the purposes of illustrating how far shaming may work. Finally, I consider how successful use of shaming could impact on crime rates and demonstrate the potential wider effect on rehabilitation, recidivism and prison populations. Shaming takes two forms, retributive and reintegrative (McLaughlin et al, 2003, p6; Hughes, 2001, p285). Retributive shaming involves stigmatising the offender, with public contempt shown for their actions. A consequence may be a prison sentence, excluding the individual from society. Emphasis is on punishing the criminal act and not on any possible prevention of future crime (McLaughlin et al, 2003 pp6-7). This is the standard model of law enforcement and crime control in the UK (Hughes, 2001, p258). Reintegrative shaming has a different focus.
Furthermore, the offender condemns their condemners and appeals to the higher loyalties of their own subculture, both techniques of which affirm the validity of their actions (Sykes and Matza, pp234-236). As a crucial component of reintegrative shaming is acknowledgment of wrong-doing and acceptance of responsibility for their actions by the offender with an accompanying will to put things right, it can be seen that techniques of neutralisation form a powerful barrier to shaming, and are a fundamental weakness in its use as a crime control resource. Another weakness in the application of shaming is society itself. Braithwaite (2003, pp396-398) demonstrates how shaming works well in Japan. However, Japanese culture is more homogenous than is Western society, and holds respect in higher esteem (Hughes, 2001, p285). Shaming is used to great effect in New Zealand, where family conferences have success in determining responses to offending. But this relies on a strong family-orientated, communitarian society (Hughes, 2001, p286). The UK does not have this societal philosophy, with increasing numbers of divorce, lone parents and geographically dispersed families (Hall, 1998, pp10-11) Furthermore, research shows that poorly-educated, unemployed young men from ethic minority backgrounds feature most prominently in court proceedings, crime figures and prison (Box, 2003, p272; Sparks, 2001, p216). There is a worry that shaming could be used to further marginalise and remove power from already subordinate groupings, as happened to the Aboriginal people of Australia (Hughes, 2001, p288).
On a lower level, it teaches people right from wrong, so that on a higher level the notion of committing criminal acts becomes unthinkable. Shaming goes beyond deterrence and connects individuals with their inner conscience. It can be seen that shaming has both strengths and weaknesses, with critics arguing that offenders will exploit restorative measures for their own gain. In addition, offenders' motives for criminality impact on how successful shaming may be; not all offenders lose family and peer status through offending, rendering shaming useless. Furthermore, techniques of neutralisation dilute the possible effects of shaming, as offenders rationalise their behaviour and cast themselves as the victim. This all sounds depressing, and shaming has a tough battle to fight. But the arguments for shaming are compelling. By engaging an individual's moral-emotional response to their own behaviour, shaming can cut youth crime and in doing so perhaps halt potential career criminals. Recidivism is reduced and, in the long-term, so too could be prison populations, allowing the fostering of more successful rehabilitation programmes. The end result could be more effective prisons promoting alternatives to crime for offenders upon release, less crime, fewer victims and enhanced societal quality of life. Shaming may be seen by some as a risk but, should the criminal justice system and society at large have the courage to pursue it as a crime control resource, the rewards could be very high.
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