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Scarlet Letter justice system

Identify criminals as their punishment
  (+2, -8)(+2, -8)
(+2, -8)
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It strikes me that the present legal system, based around sending people to prison, is vastly expensive, and has been proven to have little correlation with crime figures. Therefore, I would like to propose a simple and cheap method of punishing offenders, which has the added merit of being based on a classic of American Literature.

Simply, criminals would be identified by a letter relevant to their crime, which would be attached to their clothing for a certain period of time equal to their sentence. They would not be required to go to jail, but might be asked to perform community service or pay reparations.

Burglars could have a B, confidence tricksters a C, murderers an M. People would know not to trust those who wore a C; security cameras and guards could easily identify and follow those labelled "B"; and everyone would keep well away from those marked "M". Those with a "V" for violent behaviour might be easily excluded from bars and night-clubs where they would be likely to cause trouble. And if adulterers were marked with an "A", they would be easy to find and chat up.

This system is more humane than tattooing criminals (since it is temporary, and would be removed once they had paid their debt to society). It would require some way to ensure the letter was visible at all times (perhaps it could be combined with an electronic tag). There are civil liberties implications, e.g. that the criminals might get attacked and beaten up, but in the long term as more people walked around with the letters on, they might gain greater acceptance and people would cease to resort to mob violence. It may still be necessary to imprison some people to protect society, but I'm interested in your opinions.

pottedstu, Mar 07 2002

"Megan's Law" - sex offender registration systems http://www.llrx.com/columns/megan.htm
I believe this is now the law in all 50 US states. I've heard that, in some places, sex offenders are legally required to display a sign on their property indicating they are a convicted sex offender. No cigar, but damn close. [waugsqueke, Mar 07 2002]

Baked by Judge Howard Broadman http://www.globalid...k.org/BI/BI-91.HTML
I spent most of life sentence in Tulare County [thumbwax, Mar 07 2002, last modified Oct 17 2004]


       Hope you don't run across a Felonious, Ursurous, Cattle rustling, Kidnapper.
phoenix, Mar 07 2002

       First, those civil liberties implications extend beyond violence, and aren't so easily dismissed. Did you *read* The Scarlet Letter? We're not as far removed as you might think.   

       Second, I'm not sure what purpose this serves. As punishment, it's either cruel and unusual or it's ineffective. It doesn't really work as deterrence, and does nothing to remove offenders from society or rehabilitate them.
bookworm, Mar 07 2002

       Just imagine how cool and fashionable these letters would be to 15-yr-olds! I estimate it would take about a week for the first reproduction letters to be on the street.
hippo, Mar 07 2002

       In what sense could this be construed as "punishment"?
angel, Mar 07 2002

       Right, we'd all look like Rimmer
dare99, Mar 07 2002

       have to agree with Peter, but T for traffic wardens....
po, Mar 07 2002

       It would impinge on people's rights to privacy, but locking people up impinges on their rights to liberty. It's interesting that people can't decide if this is cruel and unusual punishment or trivia. And comparing it to Hitler doesn't make a lot of sense, since Hitler also locked people up in prison camps.   

       I'm not convinced this is a good idea, but I can't figure out what's wrong with it. I can see that it might be ineffective, but I'd like someone to explain how it's crueller than locking someone up.
pottedstu, Mar 07 2002

       And for *really* serious offences, the ones that would warrant execution under current legal systems, we can make them wear upper case letters.

Sorry. I should wear a p for a pun like that.
sirrobin, Mar 08 2002

       For very minor offences, the letter would be in something relatively fashionable, such as Palatino or Tahoma - serious offences would be in something horrid like Book Antiqua or Arial. The most serious offenders with multiple offences would have their offence letters rendered in a mixture of serif and sans serif fonts (shudder!) with inappropriate use of bold and underline (shudder! again).
hippo, Mar 08 2002

       Kidnappers would get a ransom-note font mix.
waugsqueke, Mar 08 2002

       As Peter points out, the idea was baked by the Nazi’s and it came with the tacit understanding that those who were marked out were also deemed to be non-people. Effectively it was ‘open season’ on anyone who didn’t agree with or wasn’t liked by the government.

Assuming for the moment, that your lettering system was enforced (perhaps by nailing the letters to their head), it would mark people out as undesirables (that’s what a criminal is, after all) and they would be subjected to, at the least, abuse and, almost certainly, violent attacks when they were out in public. In order to prevent this the police presence on the streets would have to be massively increased. And what a crap job that would be, protecting criminals from the righteous fury of the law-abiding public!

       And if the only punishment for, say, shop-lifting, is that you have to wear a big ‘S’ on your chest, what’s to stop repeat offending?   

       No, I think that prison is probably the least worst, available option. It protects the public from the criminal and the criminal from the public.
DrBob, Mar 08 2002

       [hippo] What exactly is the difference between Palatino and Book Antiqua?
cp, Mar 08 2002

       I disagree with the notion that this was baked by the Nazis, on the grounds that the persons so marked were not criminals (nor was it the system's function to mark criminals). This idea is clearly about marking criminals.   

       If you simplify it to "people wearing letters", then heck, 'Laverne and Shirley' bakes it. So quite obviously there is more to the idea than this.   

       I disagree with the concept, but somewhat agree with the sentiment (insofar as is indicated by my link to Megan's law).
waugsqueke, Mar 08 2002

       In both cases the point is about ostracization. Is the *reason* enough to differentiate the cases?
phoenix, Mar 08 2002

       "locking people up impinges on their rights to liberty."
Yes, that's the point of it.
"I can't figure out what's wrong with it."
It's not punishment. At all.
angel, Mar 08 2002

       mmmm i agree on the idea of bringing back capital punishment and it would serve the bastards right if they had to have a big dirty burn on their forheads. hahahahahaha
chunkster, Mar 08 2002


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