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Does shame punishment really work?

Friday, July 09, 2010
Daniel Mireles will have to hold a sign that reads, I am a thief. I stole $250,000 from a Harris County crime victims fund in the Galleria area as part of his sentence.

A Houston couple will be busy every weekend for the next six years, telling strangers on one of the busiest street corners in the city about the crime they committed. The couple stole from a crime victim's fund, and now, they will spend every Saturday and Sunday in the Galleria area, displaying signs detailing their crime.

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It sounds good to have the convicted criminal sentenced to humiliating punishment, such as posting signs in front of their homes, or in this case, carrying a sign telling others of the crime. We wondered if shame punishment works. We found it depends on who you're asking -- the victim or those who assess the judgment.

Judge Kevin Fine says he feels comfortable with the sentence. While he declined an on camera interview, Judge Fine says shame punishment is a crime deterrent.

Eloise Mireles and her husband Daniel Mireles, in addition to going to jail and repaying more than $200,000 they were convicted of stealing, will each have to carry a sign every weekend that reads, "I am a thief. I stole $250,000 from a Harris County crime victims' fund."

The Mireles' attorneys say they believe shame punishment does prevent future crime by the defendant, but in this case it may be excessive.

Juan Aguirre, attorney for Eloise Mireles, said, "I think that maybe the number of times to do it would be excessive, because we're talking every single Saturday and every single Sunday for six years."

"There may be also some safety issues," said Rudy Vasquez, attorney for Daniel Mireles. "There may be some people who are not real happy with him and they're going to know where he is every Saturday and the time."

Caroline Hardin also has issues with shame punishment. The man who murdered her son Steven Hardin was convicted more than 10 years ago and was supposed to carry a sign and adhere to several 'shame punishment' conditions, including visiting Hardin's grave and carrying a picture of Hardin at all times.

"In my case, it didn't work," she said. "Who's going to be there to make sure these people do what they're supposed to do?"

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