Judge Tries Scarlet Letter Approach to Shoplifting

Discussion
Dec 09, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Some individuals convicted of shoplifting in Rhea Country, Tennessee are being given the option by a judge of standing in front of the stores wearing
a sign that says they stole from it and are there as punishment for their crime.

The judge, James McKenzie, said he began offering the option in addition to the typical punishment of 10 days of incarceration in hopes that it
would free up jail space and deter further criminal acts.

Judge McKenzie told The Herald-News of Dayton, Tenn. that shoplifting “raises the cost of goods and services for everybody.”

Many of those who are caught, he said, “just steal for no reason. If they stole food, that’s one thing, but these people steal toothbrushes, lip
gloss, fingernail colors, non-essentials.”

Moderator’s Comment: Will Judge McKenzie’s public embarrassment solution deter shoplifting? If possible criminal
prosecution is not a deterrent to shoplifting, than what is?

George Anderson – Moderator

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12 Comments on "Judge Tries Scarlet Letter Approach to Shoplifting"


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David Livingston
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
Everybody is different and there is no one kind of punishment to deter shoplifting. Back in the 1970s, when I worked in a small town supermarket, we rarely got the law involved in shoplifting incidents. For young kids, we either called their parents or escorted them back to the box incinerator and told them about how we burned up a kid who we caught the night before. We would put him close enough to the fire so he could feel the intense heat. That worked pretty well. We treated every case individually. We often gave the elderly a break if it was something they needed, but we did confront them. Others we just banned from the store and alerted the competitors as well. Back in the old days, sometimes we just took the criminal for an old fashion ride out to the country and made him walk 20 miles home. It almost guaranteed they would not return to our store. I think a couple of mean good ol’ boys who worked for us did so… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

People who steal often believe they won’t get caught. Public embarrassment warns them of that danger. Stew Leonard used to prominently post the bad checks returned from the bank. Any innovation in the justice system should be welcomed and tested.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

As a punishment, public disgrace by sandwich board may not be cruel, but it is unusual. In small towns, especially, being put on public display before neighbors and family may be a severe punishment indeed. Some will choose to repent in the privacy of a jail cell.

While Judge McKenzie’s solution may seem clever, it is not exactly forward-thinking. I propose an even more efficient solution that would relieve the judicial system of this burden: Have retailers install a set of pillories in the entry lobby of each store. When shoplifters are caught in the act, don’t call the police. Just put them on display for 24 hours as a warning to others.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

States that have published names of people who are delinquent in child support payments have increased the number of payments. Obviously public notification is a motivation that works for some people. For some cultural groups, public display can have a major negative impact on their lives beyond just providing an example to others. Offering a choice to people convicted of of shoplifting is an important option to keep available.

Jeff Davis
Guest
Jeff Davis
15 years 2 months ago

How can anything that is offered as an “option” be a deterrant? If this was a mandatory or even a potential penalty, then I’d agree that it could be effective. The article states that individuals would be “given the option by a judge of standing in front of the stores wearing a sign that says they stole from it and are there as punishment for their crime.”

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Wonder how the ACLU will react to this one? Does this qualify as “degrading treatment” in violation of the Geneva convention? Hmmmm.

Gwen Kelly
Guest
Gwen Kelly
15 years 2 months ago

Judge McKenzie’s deterrent for criminal acts such as shoplifting might well be effective in small town America where being anonymous from the neighbors is difficult to maintain and making the local town gossip mill is sure to happen. Not so sure the Judge’s actions be effective in the major metropolitan areas where at best one would be just a hapless face being pilloried in-store before the masses who are more concerned about running to that next bargain sale item.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Only JWDDDavis seems to have picked up on the crucial point here. If the embarrassment is optional, and the guilty person still has to pay a fine or whatever, he/she would agree to punishment by humiliation because? Can’t see any reason why this would work or anyone would volunteer for it.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
15 years 2 months ago

I can’t remember where I read this, but there was an article about how more and more shoplifters have become more sophisticated. They have organized groups and teams of people who hit several stores in an area and then move on. Some retailers are trying to compare notes on shoplifting sprees to see if they can be alerted to someone’s description if they are visiting several stores. I doubt these sorts of shoplifters would be deterred by something like wearing a sign.

Patrick Laros
Guest
Patrick Laros
15 years 2 months ago

No, I don’t think this will deter shoplifters any more than jail does, and obviously jail doesn’t deter as much as we would like. However, I think this is a great alternative. Obviously, Option A isn’t working, so what is the harm in trying Option B? Public embarrassment in front of their friends and family may be punishment enough. Jail sometimes tends to be a badge of courage for some people, odd as it sounds, so let’s try something different.

Richard Beal
Guest
Richard Beal
15 years 2 months ago

The real crime here isn’t shoplifters but liberal judges who consider shoplifting a petty, insignificant crime and simply release shoplifters without bond, only to shoplift again. Seldom if ever are they sentenced to jail time, despite multiple convictions. Our local law enforcement recognizes this fact and has turned to issuing trespass warrants rather than waste their time perusing shoplifting charges because of the apparent revolving door for shoplifters.

Embarrass a shoplifter? Depends, given that many we’ve caught in my store are crack heads and I seriously doubt it is possible to embarrass a crack head. Fines for shoplifting? Right – just sends them out into the retail world to raise money to pay the fine.

Lately, I see more and more prisoner work gangs cleaning ditches and picking up trash on the sides of the road. A great place for convicted shoplifters. At least they’d be making the world a better place while serving their time.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 2 months ago

This will probably work, as it is designed to humiliate the offender, and standing in front of a retailer with a big, bad sign around your neck for 4 days should be pretty humiliating. Regardless of the size of the town, someone standing there for 32 hours is bound to be noticed by some of his or her friends. And, it reduces the jail population by one person for 10 days each time it happens.

But, it strikes me that there is something really primitive about this type of punishment, and it makes me think we sometimes move backwards in this country. It sure would be nice if shoplifters could be sent to ethics and morals classes/community service if they are adults, and family counseling/community service if they are kids.

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