Public shaming of white collar criminals: should we do it?

Every person should know that being convicted of a criminal offense can come with serious penalties, the most serious of which can be incarceration. People believe that if they can just avoid jail or prison, they have avoided the harshest part of a criminal sentence.

However, there is another element of certain offenses that some people liken to incarceration: being forced to register as a criminal offender. In Florida, this punishment is reserved for people convicted of certain sexually-related offenses. However, if one state’s efforts prove to be effective, a registry for convicted white collar criminals could be something other states consider.

In February of this year, Utah put in place an online registry that listed photos and personal information of people who have been convicted of second-degree fraud felonies in the last decade.

By making this information more readily available to members of the public, state officials believe that consumers will have an easier time identifying people with a criminal history thereby making it more difficult for registered criminals to re-offend.

According to a study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, about 50 percent of people who commit white collar crimes like fraud or embezzlement are repeat offenders. The intention of the registry is to publicly shame those convicted of these crimes and stop them from committing similar offenses.

Registering as any type of offender can make it incredibly difficult for a person to get a job, participate in their communities or even relocate without their criminal past following them around.

Whether these efforts will be effective or not remains to be seen. Other registries like the sex offender registry have recently come under scrutiny for being ineffective and unnecessarily punishing for many people required to register, so it will be interesting to see if similar criticisms arise in response to the registry for white-collar criminal offenders or if other states take Utah’s lead and start their own registries.

What do you think? Is this an appropriate form of punishment to protect consumers, or is it just making it harder for a person to move past a mistake and rebuild their future?

Source: The Atlantic, “Why Is Utah the First State to Have a White-Collar Crime Registry?” Bourree Lam, March 29, 2016