Judge Sentences Thieves to Public Humiliation

Discussion
May 08, 2007

By George Anderson

A judge in Attalla City, Alabama, gave Lisa King Fithian, 46, two unpleasant options after she was convicted of attempting to shoplift at a local Wal-Mart Supercenter. She could go to jail for 60 days or stand outside the store for four hours on two consecutive Saturdays with a sandwich board sign that read: "I am a thief, I stole from Wal-Mart."

Ms. King Fithian took the sign duty to avoid the jail time although she maintains she was wrongly convicted. She told The Associated Press that a number of shoppers had expressed empathy telling her they thought the punishment meted out was "cruel."

While Wal-Mart did not request the punishment handed out by the judge, the manager of the store involved, Neil Hawkins, said, "The only comments we’ve heard so far have been positive. Most of them thought it was a good thing."

Mr. Hawkins saw how embarrassing it could be for a shoplifter to have to be put on public display and hoped that in the future shoplifters would "think twice" before attempting to steal from his store or any other.

Discussion Questions: Will the public punishment handed out in Attalla City reduce shoplifting in the area? Is this an approach that retailers should be lobbying for in communities and states across the country?

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21 Comments on "Judge Sentences Thieves to Public Humiliation"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

Stew Leonard used to publicly humiliate deadbeats by posting their bad checks. If retailers try to lobby for public humiliation of shoplifters, the bad press won’t be worthwhile. Being known for revenge isn’t a positive image for retailers.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 14 days ago

This reminds me of the statutory proposal to issue pink license plates to repeat DUI offenders.

Without getting too wordy, I’d suggest adding the following “fine print” to the sandwich board: “I chose this punishment instead of 60 days in jail. Therefore, I’ll not miss any work, will get to remain with my family, and will save taxpayers the cost of supporting me in jail for 60 days.”

George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
15 years 14 days ago

Can’t help thinking this is also about keeping prison costs down. It takes money to lock people up. Agree with other comments that this is not likely to take any measurable bite out of shoplifting crimes. Still, I can understand the desire to try something different when what has been tried hasn’t worked.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 14 days ago

Shoplifting is bad for all of us. Any punishment that can be devised is worth considering. I do like the judge’s wisdom in allowing the perp a choice. They do not have to be humiliated, that is a choice. I might also suggest that any person receiving any unearned form of public assistance lose this support if convicted of shoplifting or other designated crimes. This could be for either a period of time or permanently. This is not without precedent in that felons lose the privileges of citizenship for either a period of time or permanently, depending on the jurisdiction.

John Franco
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

A couple of things stand out to me that haven’t been mentioned.

First, a 60-day jail sentence would seem to be extraordinarily harsh for a petty crime of stealing something worth $7. I’m not sure that is exactly the case here but that’s what the article implies.

Second, would this actually deter more crime than it encourages? In addition to the ‘badge of honor’ idea mentioned above, I’m sure there is a segment of society that would not mind risking 8 hours wearing a sign as a punishment for shoplifting. Certainly it’s better than 60 days in jail, and that could create a reverse deterrent.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

It depends on the situation. Sure its hard on the taxpayers to send someone to a prison hotel for 60 days. This is a fitting punishment only if the person is really humiliated. This might not really be a big deal to the person. In fact it might be getting them the attention they want to begin with. This might not really be a punishment but it might deter others from stealing.

Toni Rahlf
Guest
Toni Rahlf
15 years 14 days ago

One particular retailer for which I worked used to take a Polaroid of the shoplifter (if apprehended) and post it on a “wall of shame” in a meeting room away from consumers’ sight. The idea was to have employees on the lookout for these people who are clearly prone to shoplifting. If we can post photos of known criminals (such as known child abductors, etc.) in the entryways of Wal-Mart as a watch out for parents, why not post known shoplifters’ photos? Then, there is still a level of humiliation, but the real advantage to Wal-Mart or any other retailer is the deterrent factor. This doesn’t address the need to mitigate jail costs, of course, except that fewer shoplifters means fewer people to send to jail.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 14 days ago
My thinking on this is much like Liz Crawford’s. And that of a British columnist writing in today’s newspaper. Too many people dislike Wal-Mart to sympathise with the store rather than the customer and it will not do them (the company) much good at all. It might even spark a few copycat thefts. Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) over here have become almost a badge of honour among the type of people who receive them, inspiring their friends to want them as well. It is also my suspicion that people likely to shoplift are not likely to believe that they will be caught or that they are doing anything harmful (especially to such a rich company) so this is not going to be much of a deterrent. They might just turn it into a joke or award recognising their rebelliousness and independence. It could all badly backfire. AND…have to agree with bobcraycraft about the causes and effects–without knowing more about the shoplifter (who proclaims her innocence) and her circumstances, the punishment may actually be totally… Read more »
Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
15 years 14 days ago

While no one deserves to be stolen from, it would cross my mind that five of the 10 wealthiest people in America are Waltons, and that one of the Walton daughters just paid the highest price ever for a single painting: $35 million. I guess what I am saying is that though I support aggressive crime enforcement, this does seem like a very public humiliation of a possibly low-income person, to protect the assets of some of the wealthiest people on Earth. I would also be concerned this type of acute humiliation would be permanent or long-term emotional damage to the perpetrator.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
15 years 14 days ago
The Judge is on the right track. Let’s start thinking differently about how we treat people who commit crimes. (Note I did not use the word punish because that reminds me of disobeying my parents). But we need to start thinking about more effective things we can do to stop the deterioration of values in this country. In this case, I agree with many of the other comments that Wal-Mart may end up becoming the big loser in this particular case because the person was forced to stand outside of their store and they are going to be looked at as the ones that requested this kind of treatment. I don’t have the answer, but we need to look at making sure, one, that people realize that if they commit a crime they will pay a price and that the fear of the price is greater then the reward of the misdeed and two, just like you motivate people the way they want to be motivated we need to discipline people in ways that inflict… Read more »
W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

The American culture seems to have gone down hill when we have to utilize the Scarlet Letter approach. If this was a career shoplifter or member of gang, this will have no impact. Only with an upstanding member of society with strong roots and many friends and family will this have any effect.

Barry Wise
Guest
Barry Wise
15 years 14 days ago

Congratulations to the judge for setting punishment that fit the crime. Retailers should lobby for this approach, if used more it would do more to discourage petty crimes than sending a criminal to jail where they will likely return to commit an even worse crime.

David Biernbaum
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

The punishment the judge handed to the shoplifter having to stand outside the Wal-Mart store for four hours on two consecutive Saturdays with a sandwich board sign that read: “I am a thief, I stole from Wal-Mart” could actually backfire unfairly on the retailer. I’m not surprised that she indicated that a number of shoppers had expressed empathy telling her they thought the punishment meted out was “cruel.” Yes, she got was she deserved, however it still doesn’t reflect the right image for the retailer, even though it was the judge that made the ruling. It would be better if she had to pay for the crime in a different way that wouldn’t also bring embarrassment to the Wal-mart store.

Liz Crawford
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

Well, this is a fun return to the public stocks in Medieval times.

Except, I don’t think that it will go over too big today at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is vilified by consumers even as they shop there.

She’ll get as many high fives from customers as curious glances. Others will think it’s a hoax. No, in today’s world, this isn’t punishment.

peter murphy
Guest
peter murphy
15 years 14 days ago

Publicly humiliating the woman is a throw back to a darker, murkier time in history. The rule of law is meant to maintain order, hand out commensurate sanctions to transgressors and to temper everything with mercy. Adopting the tactics of some cheap reality show not only demeans the whole institution of law but all those who allow it to pass as a legitimate expression of the power of the State. For a supposedly Christian country it’s a totally unchristian approach. I’m surprised that anyone thinks it’s a good idea for what is–in the grand scheme of things–a trivial offense. Pity you couldn’t boil her in oil or burn her at the stake. But I guess I shouldn’t be giving you ideas.

sri prakash
Guest
sri prakash
15 years 14 days ago

I would say the judge did a good job. Maybe we would all not like it, but shoplifting has to be handled tactfully as the image of the store is always at stake but if you try to be soft natured towards these things, we might never put a stop to it. I Feel we have to pull the strings somewhere and I think this is good start.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 14 days ago

This is what America needs more of! We continually allow our criminals the anonymity of our Criminal Justice system, when we should instead be publicizing their wrong doings as well as their identities. Each of us pays for their misdeeds, and people who commit crimes should face the shame of what they have done as well as the consequences. Hooray for the judge for recognizing this and giving this sentence as an option!

Gregory Belkin
Guest
Gregory Belkin
15 years 14 days ago

I must say I agree with the judge in this case, and think that this is a fitting punishment for the crime. Plus, it is a great deterrent to potential future shoplifters, and a way to make current offenders to feel the gravity of their crime.

Most people think shoplifting is a crime that doesn’t effect them, when it reality it does through higher prices. Bringing the problem front and center is a great way to drive that point home, and finally do something about it.

Thaddeus Tazioli
Guest
Thaddeus Tazioli
15 years 13 days ago

Without actually commenting one way or the other on the punishment, I will say as a person responsible for the brand image of my company that the last thing I would want to do with a shoplifter is have them stand out in front of my store with a sandwich board confessing their crime. I think it is totally undignified behavior for Wal-Mart and only reinforces the negative image they have been working so hard to combat. Shoplifters are still human and still worthy of basic human dignity.

Oh and one more thing. $35 million for a painting wouldn’t even place Ms. Walton in the top ten for purchasers of the most expensive paintings in history. The honor of having the number one, and number two spot, go to David Geffen, which he earned by dropping $277 million on a Pollock and a de Kooning.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
15 years 11 days ago

Is anyone still following this thread? I saw a story in which Wal-Mart stated they did not want the person standing outside their store so the person would stand outside the courthouse instead.

TERRY JOHNSON
Guest
TERRY JOHNSON
14 years 10 months ago

I saw a similar punishment a few months ago at my local Wal-Mart store with three teenagers. It had a profound impact on me and I suspect on other Midwesterners who saw it. Perhaps in metro areas it is a badge of honor, but in my rural community it was effective in shaming the perps. I can imagine my dad doing something like this to discipline his errant children in a day long past. I applaud the judge for not coddling the thief.

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