Philly Post Features Atkins Article on Shame Punishments in American Courts

By schwartzsa | July 5, 2012

Philly Post featured “Judge Was Right to Tell Mom to Cut Off Daughter’s Ponytail” by Larry Atkins, Adjunct Professor of Journalism. The article discusses the prevalence of “shame punishments” in American courts, following a recent court order from a Utah Judge that required a “13-year-old girl to serve 30 days in detention and perform 276 hours of community service, after the girl had used scissors to cut off several locks of a three-year-old’s long, curly hair at a McDonald’s.”

The judge offered to cut 150 hours of community service off the sentence if the girl’s mother, Valerie Bruno, cut off her daughter’s ponytail. Bruno opted for the cut, but has now reportedly filed a formal complaint against the judge. Under Utah state law, judges have discretion in imposing sanctions for youth that will change their behavior in a positive manner.

Some legal experts such as Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, have criticized these “shame punishments.” “This is part of a disturbing trend that has developed in the last 20 years,” Turley told the Associated Press regarding the Utah incident. “These are punishments that often appeal to the public and bring a type of instant gratification for the court.”

Such “shame punishments” have been increasing in American courts. One example includes a Texas judge giving an abusive father who had punished his stepson a choice of sleeping in a doghouse for 30 days rather than serving 30 days in jail. The father chose the doghouse so that he could go to work.