Few would argue that the punishment of criminals has advanced a great deal since the Middle Ages.
We no longer stretch people on the rack for misdemeanors, cut off hands for shoplifting, or draw-and-quarter people for, well, anything.
However, Medieval law enforcers understood the value of shame as a deterrent.
A common form of punishment involved locking people in cages or the pillory, where they were exposed to public shaming Â and occasionally pelted with rotten fruit, horse dung or whatever else was handy.
In Medieval Germany, minor offenders were forced to wear shame masks Â heavy iron masks which symbolized the miscreant’s crime. Men who told lewd jokes were forced to wear pig masks; gossips wore masks with big ears, forked tongues and bells; and bad musicians were locked into masks with silent flutes.
In Ontario, the Durham Regional Police Service has brought back public shaming in an effort to reduce drunk driving.
The Durham Regional Police Service patrol a series of small communities Â including Oshawa, Pickering, Whitby and Ajax in the Toronto area.
In late November, the Durham police began publishing the name, age and hometown of impaired drivers on their website and in local newspapers.
In its first four weeks, the service posted 56 names to the website. This digital pillory can be viewed online at www.drps.ca.
While the public shaming probably won’t stop hardcore drinkers, it may be a deterrent to the party goer who considers driving home after having a few.
Prince George would be an ideal place to roll out a similar program in B.C. The city is still small enough that people still care what their neighbours think of them.
In fact the program could be expanded to include men who hire prostitutes, vandals, people arrested on drug charges, thieves and so on.
A website posting the photo, name, age and address of all the criminals convicted in the city would likely be the most popular Internet site in Prince George.
The concept of public shaming should also be extended to inmate work crews and people doing community service.
Iron shame masks would probably constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but there are humane alternatives.
Instead of wearing tough-looking prison overalls, prisoners could be forced to clean the side of highways wearing bright pink spandex tights, tutus, bells and ballerina shoes humiliating, uncomfortable and easy to see, it’s the ideal prison garb.
The public would be encouraged to point and laugh, take pictures, make kissy-faces and whistle catcalls at prisoners as they go by.
Not only would this shame the prisoners, it would be an abject lesson for any would-be criminals about the consequences of crime.
Shame has been used to deter people from committing crimes for thousands of years, it’s time we restore this useful tradition.