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Human Services


This study examined the relationship between the public humiliation and shaming of offenders in the sentencing portion of a criminal trial and the subsequent severity of the sentence the offender receives. Judicial moral shaming of offenders is returning to popularity in the courts, influencing the final sentence outcome as an under-identified mitigator, that substitutes for judges’ other punitive sanctions. Support for this shaming is found in Heider’s attribution theory and in Homans’ theory of social exchange; however Braithwaite found this form of shaming is overly punitive and ineffective. This four phase study used a sequential, mixed method, exploratory research design. A purposeful sample of 80 Provincial Court case transcripts of judges’ reasons for sentencing were first examined qualitatively for the presence of public humiliation using linguistic content analysis; this yielded a taxonomy and classifications of incidents of public humiliation. Using this taxonomy and classification, the data were then analyzed quantitatively, together with the subsequent severity of offenders’ sentences, in a series of bivariate and regression analyses. Other influences on sentencing were considered in the analyses, including the age and gender of the offender, the kind of offense and the plea. Findings of the content analysis indicated that humiliation is multifaceted, with two primary forms: judge imposed and self imposed. Results of the regression analyses that accounted for both forms of shaming indicated that presence of public humiliation is associated with lesser sentences. This study contributes to social change by identifying the practice of public humiliation in the courts and challenging its practice, in keeping with Margalit’s thesis that a decent society is one that does not use social institutions to humiliate its citizens.