Reintegrative shaming is the key to controlling crime

Following almost three centuries of differing rationales, such as retribution, punity, reformation and rehabilitation, competing to be the dominant influence on the criminal justice systems of modern Western societies, there has emerged a 'new' approach to crime control, that of restorative justice. The aim of this approach is to offer a 'tougher reworking' of the concerns of welfare and the rehabilitation of the offender, coupled with punishment of the criminal behaviour, and a more central role with regards the rights of, and justice for the victim (Hughes, 2002).

Restorative justice aims to bring the process of conflict resolution back into the 'community', thus enabling all parties affected by criminal behaviour to be involved in working towards a reconciliatory outcome (Hughes, 2001, p. 248, cited in McLaughlin and Muncie, 2001). Reintegrative shaming is a strategy based upon the logic of restorative justice (Hughes, 2002) and it is this method of crime control that is the subject of this essay.

In order to fully explore the issue as to whether reintegrative shaming is the key to controlling crime, it will be necessary to first explain the features of reintegrative shaming, with reference to its main advocate, John Braithwaite. Secondly, it would be advantageous to the purposes of this essay to examine how such techniques work in practice. Having looked at the theoretical basis and working practices of reintegrative shaming, I will then discuss both the merits and limitations of this approach, to enable an informed assessment as to whether reintegrative shaming is an effective form of crime control.

A fundamental question at the heart of Braithwaite's (1989, cited in McLaughlin et al, 2003, pp. 393-99) theory of reintegrative shaming is 'why do people not commit crime? ' He argues that for most well-socialized people, it is our consciences that will not allow us to perpetrate acts of wrong-doing, since if we were to even contemplate executing a harmful act, we would experience an immediate anxiety response, a pang of conscience.

Conscience, in turn, is built through the process of shaming during our formative childhood years; when we commit an act that contradicts the mores and values of our culture, we are faced with the disapproval of significant others, and since we value the acceptance and approval of those we love, we feel shame in disappointing them. Eventually, the disapproval is internalised and direct external reprimands are needed less and less, as our conscience increasingly guides our behaviour.

However, sometimes even the most developed consciences may let us down, and it is in these situations that shaming is a very powerful tool of informal social control (McLaughlin et al, 2003). In their critique of delinquent subcultures, Sykes and Matza (1957, cited in McLaughlin et al. , 2003. pp. 232-38) demonstrate how consciences may 'slip', via the delinquents' use of 'techniques of neutralization', in which they attempt to rationalize their deviant behaviour.

However, Sykes and Matza argue that although the delinquent may seem committed to the deviant system of his or her subculture, it is evident that he or she accepts the moral validity of the dominant social values, since despite their frequent rationalizations, research has shown that many delinquents do experience a sense of shame, particularly if 'significant others' are informed of their wrong-doing. Thus, although techniques of neutralization can, to some degree, lessen the effectiveness of both internal and external control, it is still possible to appeal to the delinquent's conscience through the use of shaming.

Braithwaite (1989, cited in McLaughlin et al, 2003, pp. 393-99) argues that shaming can be put to good use in the control of crime, however, as he points out, there are two types of shaming – reintegrative and disintegrative, and it is the latter which has been the dominant form of shaming within the criminal justice processes of Western societies. This type of shaming tends to stigmatize and degrade the offender, leading to exclusionary practices, from ostracization to imprisonment, which then increases the likelihood of reoffending (McLaughlin et al. , 2003).

Hughes (2002, p.283-4) alerts us to the disintegrative qualities of shaming by example of 'naming and shaming' campaigns. Such cases remind us that if shaming is to occur, it must be in the community, and not of the community, since without the protection of the criminal justice system, offenders are vulnerable to what can often be vicious and vindictive behaviour. Reintegrative shaming attempts to reverse this outcome, by reducing the stigma involved through focusing on the 'evil of the deed rather than on the offender as an irredeemably evil person' (ibid. ) and thus offering the offender a gesture of 'reacceptance' (McLaughlin and Muncie, 2001, p. 262).

In so doing, the offender is encouraged to acknowledge the harmful consequences of his actions, which may then lead onto an attempt by the offender to rectify the wrong that has been committed, and so reaffirm his or her membership of the community (McLaughlin et al, 2003). According to Braithwaite, reintegrative shaming is a strategy based on mutual respect, involving all those affected by the wrongdoing, that is, the offender, the victim and close associates of both. The inclusion of these associates structures both shame, via the victim's supporters, and reintegration, via the offender's supporters, into the process (Braithwaite, 2003).

It aims to 'heal the wounds' rather than be merely punitive (Hughes, 2002). This account accords with Durkheim's (1893, cited in McLaughlin et al. , 2003, pp. 3-4) views with regards to the expressive function of punishment. Durkheim claimed that the role of punishment is to maintain a general moral consensus, achieved through the ritual coming-together of 'law-abiding' members of a community, in which a commitment to shared values can be reinforced, thus preserving social cohesion. Braithwaite argues that the preventive success of this approach lies in its impact on the offender's conscience. Rose (1999, cited in Hughes, 2002, p.

290) explains that such strategies seek to 'inscribe awareness' of the damaging consequences for others 'directly into the ethical make-up of the offender'. Braithwaite thus concedes that reintegrative shaming is more likely to work in close-knit communities, with a high degree of 'interconnectedness' (Braithwaite, 1989, cited in McLaughlin et al. , 2003, p. 6). However, he contends that reintegrative shaming is relevant in contemporary, individualistic societies, and this viewpoint is somewhat validated when we consider the influence such an approach has had on recent criminal justice policies and practices.

Indeed, reintegrative shaming practices, such as Family Group Conferences, established in New Zealand in 1989, and which involve the victims, the offenders and their families, mediated by professionals, is based on the 'communitarian systems of conflict resolution within Maori culture' (Hughes, 2002, p. 286). Such conferences have been lauded as being particularly successful in reducing rates of re-offending (Maxwell and Morris, 1996, cited in Hughes, 2002), with some proponents claiming an 80% reduction of young people in care for welfare or criminal reasons (Hughes, 2002).