What's Really Wrong with Shaming Sanctions

28 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2006 Last revised: 16 Apr 2013

See all articles by Dan M. Kahan

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: July 1, 2006


In this article, I renounce my previous defense of shaming penalties. Sort of. In What Do Alternative Sanctions Mean, 63 U. Chi. L. Rev. 591 (1996), I argued that shaming penalties would likely be a politically viable substitute for imprisonment for a range of nonviolent (or relatively nonviolent) offenses because unlike fines, community service, and other alternative sanctions that have encountered decisive resistance, shaming unambiguously expresses moral denunciation of criminal wrongdoers. Drawing on work that I've done since then, I now acknowledge that the premise of this analysis was flawed. Ordinary citizens expect punishments not merely to condemn but to do so in ways that affirm rather than denigrate their core values. By ritualistically stigmatizing wrongdoers as transgressors of shared moral norms, shaming penalties grate against the sensibilities of persons who subscribe to egalitarian and individualistic worldviews. To maximize its chances of widespread adoption, an alternative sanction must be expressively overdetermined - that is, sufficiently rich in meanings to appeal simultaneously to citizens of diverse cultural and moral persuasions. I suggest that restorative justice can satisfy that criterion, but only if its proponents resist the impulse to purge it of expressive elements that make it appealing to the very citizens who were willing to endorse shame.

Keywords: shame, criminal law, imprisonment, social meaning, expressive theory

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., What's Really Wrong with Shaming Sanctions (July 1, 2006). Texas Law Review, Vol. 84, p. 2075, 2006, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 125, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=914503

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

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