Shaming sentences aim to cut costs
Evelyn Border will never forget the day she had to tell the world she was a thief.
Border, 60, and her daughter Tina Griekspoor, 39, made a deal with Bedford County prosecutors to sit on a street corner clutching posters that read, “I stole from a 9-year-old on her birthday! Don't steal or this could happen to you!” The humiliating ordeal let them avoid potential jail time for stealing $80 in gift cards from a girl at a Wal-Mart.
“I felt about an inch tall,” Border said. “I made a mess out of myself for the one mistake I did. And that's going to be held over my head for the rest of my life.”
Such shaming punishments are rare, but judges and attorneys the Tribune-Review interviewed said the unconventional sentences typically reserved for small-time, first-offense and white-collar thieves cut correctional institution costs and serve as a warning to would-be copycats.
Allegheny County Judge Lester G. Nauhaus said saving money was on his mind when he sentenced former State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin this week for running a corrupt campaign to win a seat on the state Supreme Court. Nauhaus ordered Melvin, 57, of Marshall to send a photograph of herself in handcuffs to every judge in Pennsylvania. Nauhaus sentenced her to three years of house arrest, two years' probation, community service in a soup kitchen and to pay $55,000 in fines.
“I don't know how anyone can say this is any different from prison,” Nauhaus said on Tuesday. “The only difference is that taxpayers aren't paying for it.”
Border said jail might have been preferable to months of badgering from reporters around the globe and the dirty looks she still gets from neighbors.
But she learned a lesson, she said, and hasn't re-offended.
“If you can craft a sentence that will be effective in terms of rehabilitation and protecting the public and the defendant not offending again while doing it in a cost-effective way, it's a win,” Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins said.
In Ohio, brightly colored car license plates alert other drivers that a convicted DUI offender is on the road. In Maine, police in October published a website with the names of 21 men charged with hiring prostitutes. Allegheny County posts online a list of tax delinquent bars and restaurants whose owners haven't paid their Alcoholic Beverage Tax.
Nonviolent offenders, such as white-collar criminals who have embezzled money, usually don't need to be locked behind bars because they don't pose a threat to society, Higgins said. Housing an inmate in state prison is costly, too.
The state spent an average of $32,059 on every inmate behind bars, according to a 2011 state Auditor General report. Despite a drop in crime, the state's prison population has increased more than 40 percent in the past decade to 51,000 inmates as of March, according to the Department of Corrections, which has a budget of $1.86 billion.
Critics contend forcing someone to admit guilt in a public setting, particularly a defendant appealing a conviction, could violate their Fifth Amendment right barring self-incrimination.
But University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris said shaming sentences don't violate a person's rights because those sentenced already are convicted of a crime.
Offenders typically have little choice but to endure the humiliation because they're under a court order, he said. If they refuse, the judge could impose a harsher penalty.
“It's not torture because it doesn't involve pain,” Harris said. “It's humiliation, pure and simple.”
District Judge Richard G. King said it's important to understand that sentences reflect the opinion of the judge assigned to the case. The public often criticizes the court system for failing to prosecute people who hold positions of power, King said.
In reality, the courts have cracked down on high-status offenders in recent years, he said.
In November, former state Senate Democratic Leader Robert Mellow became the eighth Pennsylvania legislative leader to head to prison since 2009 for misusing public funds to get re-elected. Mellow received a 16-month prison sentence on top of hefty fines totaling more than $150,000.
In Melvin's case, “Justice was served,” King said. “Charges were filed, a hearing held and (Melvin) was found guilty.”
Christina Gallagher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5637 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Man surrenders after standoff in Middle Hill
- Woman dies after bleeding on sidewalk outside Carrick pizzeria
- Downtown holiday parade festive, but weather dampens turnout
- Group urges Port Authority of Allegheny County to fund more transit routes
- Security policies limit ‘insider threat’ at airports, TSA says
- Renovation planned for blighted homes in Garfield
- Pet chiropractic more popular in Western Pa., but doubts linger
- Newsmaker: Tyra Oliver
- Alpine touring skiing movement faces uphill climb in Western Pa.
- SWAT incident in Ross ends peacefully
- Forbes Road Career and Technology Center students restore vehicle that will be donated