Shaming In Asian Societies Research Paper

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Shaming plays a critical role in crime and punishment. Within the context of criminological theories, there are two different styles of shaming: stigmatizing and reintegrative. Shaming that stigmatizes is known as labeling. Through labeling theory, it has been widely recognized within criminological circles that having a negative criminal label (a stigma) contributes to the formation of a deviant self-image, which pushes offenders into criminal subcultures, facilitates the internalization of the deviant identity, and leads to secondary deviance (Becker 1973; Lemert 1951). In contrast, reintegrative shaming combines punishment with compassion and aims to rehabilitate and reintegrate individual offenders and restore broken relationships. While both types of approaches to crime and punishment have been practiced throughout human history, only relatively recently (since the 1980s) has restorative justice and reintegrative shaming caught the attention of scholars and policy makers in Western countries such as in the Unites States.

This research paper first defines and describes shaming and its different forms. It then examines unique social conditions that are conducive to reintegrative shaming. Research has shown that unique social conditions, such as a high interdependency among individuals and communitarianism within a society, facilitate the use of reintegrative shaming (Braithwaite 1989). Asian countries, such as China and Japan, have been widely regarded as communitarian societies, and shaming has played an important role both in informal and formal social settings. To help illustrate the characteristics and nature of reintegrative shaming practiced in Asia, crime prevention and control programs, such as bang-jiao in China and bizai shobun in Japan, are assessed within the context of the individualism and communitarianism debate.

Shame And Reintegration

Within the context of criminology, shame refers to the disapproval of deviant acts and/or criminal wrongdoings by others and often in public. Shaming can take different forms. It can be as subtle as a frown, a slight shake of the head, or gossip. It can also be as direct as a verbal confrontation, a media broadcast, or an official pronouncement by a judge (Braithwaite 1989). Shame serves as an effective social control on two levels: (1) shame deters future criminal behavior through internally building conscience (guilt induction) and (2) shame also deters future criminal behavior by public disapproval through external referents (e.g., family members, teachers, neighbors, police officers) that set boundaries and reaffirms rules.

Developmental psychologists sometimes make the distinction between shame and guilt by depicting shame as a reaction to criticisms by others such as parents and neighbors, whereas guilt is induced internally after a wrongdoing (Braithwaite 1989). Others regard shaming and guilt induction as inextricably part of the same social process. They both imply certain moral expectations of the individual and the community.

Scholars argue that a culture that has a high set of moral expectations and reinforces these moral expectations through shaming will have a more effective social control than a culture that seeks control through strict law and punishment (Braithwaite 1989). This is because shaming implies that citizens have the responsibility to express public disapproval of behaviors that harm the community. The potency of this form of self-policing lies in its swiftness (in time) and intimacy (both in physical distance and social distance).

A new form of shaming – online shaming – takes shaming to the virtual world. Witnesses of an immoral/deviant incident, often out of frustration and outrage, may take pictures and post them online. For example, pictures of a South Korean woman who refused to clean up after her dog defecated on a train were posted online. This resulted in her being “shamed” by bloggers from all over the world. This newly emerged shaming obviously grew from modern technology but also out of the growing diversity, mobility, and fear of disorder and crime shared in modern societies. Online shaming essentially serves the function of peer surveillance, or lateral surveillance, and may help deter deviant behaviors and reaffirm moral boundaries (Skoric et al. 2010).

There are two types of shaming: reintegrative and stigmatizing. A reintegrative type of shaming has two essential components: (1) shame (public expressions of community disapproval) and (2) reintegration (efforts to reaccept the offender into the community). Community disapproval can range from a mild rebuke to a strong disapproval within a formal ceremony. Also, efforts at reintegration can range from a simple smile expressing forgiveness and love to a formal ceremony to decertify the offender as a deviant. Shaming is more potent when expressed and administered by significant others – parents, friends, and neighbors. This is because significant others tended to have a continuing and meaningful relationship with the deviants; thus, their opinions bear more importance to the deviants than would a stranger’s or an institution’s (i.e., the police, court officials). In addition, shaming is more effective when there is a goal of reintegration and restoration, rather than stigmatization and rejection. The best place to witness reintegrative shaming is the loving family. Within a loving family, disapproval is expressed while bonds of respect are maintained. Condemnation is made toward the deviant act, not the deviant family member. More important is the forgiveness and genuine gesture of reacceptance that leads to reintegration back into the family (Braithwaite 1989).

The stigmatizing type of shaming is disintegrative. It typically involves attaching a deviant label to the offender. Labeling is stigmatizing because it focuses on the public degradation process, the labeling of the deviant, yet with little attention on delabeling and reintegration. The deviant person, once labeled and stigmatized, is likely to become an outcast and pushed into the criminal subculture. The deviant behavior becomes their master status. A master status is a characteristic(s) that defines an individual. For example, a person could be a good athlete or a good student, but if they are caught for engaging in delinquent behavior and are labeled, this label trumps what they were characterized as being before. Consequently, it precipitates the outcast to internalize a criminal identity and reject any attempts at shaming and reintegration. This selffulfilling prophecy happens as a response to shaming that dramatizes the offenders’ evil.

Criminologists of divergent perspectives (e.g., rational choice, social learning, labeling) now recognize that most criminals do not reject criminal law outright. Instead, they rationalize their deviant actions by shifting the blame of their deviance onto others (e.g., “it’s the victims’ fault,” “everybody else is doing it,” “I did not mean it”). The ability to rationalize their deviant behavior allows the deviants to temporarily suspend their commitment to the law and insulates them from shame. In this process of rationalization, criminal subcultures provide the muchneeded social support for the deviant behavior, particularly when legitimate opportunities are blocked due to negative labels. Within the world of criminal subcultures, deviant actions are rationalized as a defensible lifestyle – against the injustice and stigma often felt inflicted upon the outcasts. Deviance thus becomes a way of life. The more attempts that are made to reform the outcasts, the worse it becomes (Braithwaite 1989; Becker 1973; Lemert 1951).

Some societies are prone to reintegration, whereas other societies prefer punishment as a way of social control. In general, societies characterized as communitarian, with reciprocal relationships among its citizens, are more likely to shame reintegratively. Shaming within this context is likely to be more potent, resulting in lower crime rates, because disapproval is unlikely to be rejected. In contrast, societies characterized as individualistic, with its citizens interacting only out of necessity and convenience, are more likely to resort to punishment. Shaming in this context is less effective because stigmatization and punishment are likely to cut off the deviants’ interdependencies with their mainstream social relations and push them into the criminal subcultural world.

In addition, shaming is culture specific. Similar public expressions of disapproval of a deviant act may be perceived differently. In the United States, for example, the same outward disapproval of a delinquent act in an Asian culture setting may be received differently than it would in an African American culture setting. This is based on the concept that the ideals and attitudes held by different cultures are not the same in regards to legal justice, norm violations, and the extent of the impact by external forces (Braithwaite 1989). Even within the same cultural context, different social organizations (i.e., family, neighborhood) may deliver various degrees/kinds of shaming. For example, a study on Chinese urban residents found that family members generally use shaming and reintegration highly when a family member deviated because acts of deviance reflect badly on the rest of the family and their ancestors. With the economic development since the 1980s, Chinese neighborhoods are transforming to be become more transient. The study found that residential mobility affected shaming practices in the neighborhood (making shaming less reintegrative) much more significantly than shaming practices within the family (Lu et al. 2002).

In sum, reintegrative shaming is likely to label only the deviant acts, whereas stigmatizing shaming is likely to label the actor. Reintegrative shaming is more effective at crime control than stigmatizing shaming, because reintegrative shaming minimizes the risks of pushing deviants into criminal subcultures, whereas stigmatizing shaming increases these risks. In addition, deviants who are embedded in relationships that are overwhelmingly characterized by social approval are more likely to respond positively to shame. In contrast, deviants, who are not in these types of relationships, are more likely to reject shaming and make it criminogenic rather than crime inhibiting.

Shame And Communitarianism

The effectiveness of shaming depends upon two interrelated social conditions: interdependency and communitarianism. Interdependency refers to the interrelationship among individuals. It is an individual level variable. Individuals with more interdependencies are more susceptible to shaming; thus, they are less likely to commit crime.

There is an overwhelming consensus among criminologists regarding factors critical to an individual’s interdependent relationships. These factors include, but are not limited to, age, gender, marital status, education, and employment status. For example, studies have found that the most important correlate of interdependency is stage in the life cycle. Individuals are mostly likely to become a deviant between 15 and 25 years of age. The two life-defining events for deviants to go straight are getting married and having children (Braithwaite 1989).

Communitarianism is the antithesis of individualism. It is the combination of a dense network of individual interdependencies with strong cultural commitments to mutuality of obligation. There are three basic elements to communitarianism: (1) interdependencies densely enmeshed in all spheres of social life, (2) interdependencies characterized by mutual obligation and trust, and (3) interdependencies built upon group loyalty (Braithwaite 1989). Thus, while numerous interdependencies are a necessary condition for communitarianism, mere interactions among group members are not sufficient for the group/society to be characterized as communitarian.

In communitarian societies, communities are typically defined by social ties, such as in family or neighborhood, as well as other significant relationships such as fellow students and coworkers. These communities are held together by mutual dependency and the need for cooperative endeavor (typically in a strict hierarchical order based on an individual’s group status and/or social roles) to function. Countries and/or tribes in many parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, can be characterized as communitarian. Most Western societies may be identified as more individualistic rather than communitarian. As the economy progresses, societies become more urbanized, mobile, diverse, and individualized. While there may be an abundant amount of interdependent relationships in highly developed areas (i.e., Western societies), because of increasing economic activities (i.e., landlords and tenants, bank tellers and customers) and other activities accompanying the economic growths (i.e., the police and criminals), these interdependencies may be more out of necessities and convenience, opposed to mutual obligation and trust. Within this context of high individualism, shaming by communities becomes particularly challenging. This is because “As a society becomes more role-differentiated [as in a modern society], the potential for effective shaming increases in important ways, but so does the potential for stigmatization that cuts off effective shaming” (Braithwaite 1993, p. 15).

Shaming can be administered by private individuals (i.e., communitarian-based shaming), and it can also be administered by the state (i.e., statesanctioned shaming). In most developed Western countries, shaming is handled by the state via the criminal-justice system. In contrast, communitarian based shaming is dominant in many developing nations where legal systems are not fully developed and accessible.

Studies have found that communitarian-based shaming is more effective than state-sanctioned shaming in two aspects. First, shaming delivered by people of high interdependency and within a communitarian society (i.e., family, friends) is more potent than when it is delivered by an impersonal state because of the constant contact the intimates have with the individual. Second, shaming by significant others is more likely to be expressed in ways that is reintegrative, compared to the shaming by an impersonal state. Offenders are less likely to be stigmatized and adopt an outcast master status. In this context, a communitarian society resembles an enlarged loving family, where reintegrative shaming works best.

Reintegrative Shaming And Its Effectiveness

Since its publication in 1989, the theory of reintegrative shaming has aroused great interest among scholars and policy makers. Several studies tested this theory in a variety of settings.

A study using adolescents (ages from 14 to 17) from a single urban area in a southwestern state of the United States examined the relationship between the adolescents’ perceptions of their parents’ sanctioning methods (reintegrative vs. stigmatizing) and their reports of predatory delinquency (Hay 2001). Findings of this study are largely consistent with Braithwaite’s theory of reintegrative shaming in that the level of interdependency of the adolescent with the parents and the use of reintegration by the parent were statistically significant. Parental sanctions are a way to reinforce a close relationship within families that have strong interdependent relationships between parents and children.

Reintegrative shaming theory has been used as a valuable interpretive framework in some experimental studies. For example, a study on a drug court in a southwest state of the United States revealed that drug courts were perceived to follow more of the reintegrative shaming type of model than a traditional court that offered more of an assembly line type of service. However, drug court participants had a higher recidivism risk than nondrug court participants. A compelling explanation for the failure of drug courts is because the presumed comparability with RST in process and structure is not necessarily true. Drug courts may be more stigmatizing than general courts based on field observation data (i.e., the initial and second appearances in courts resembled more of a public degradation ceremony than reintegrative shaming). In addition, disapproval expressed by the judge may not be potent. Judges represent an impersonal state and may not be regarded by offenders as someone respectable or important. Furthermore, judges do not continue to have relationships with the drug users after seeing them in court (Miethe et al. 2000). In sum, the RST can be used to guide programs that are intended to restore offenders back into the community and can help those who manage and evaluate the programs to make them more successful.

Several studies examined family group conferences in Australia using reintegrative shaming theory. For example, a study examined basic conditions for a successful restorative/reintegrative family conference and identified a list of key factors. First is separating the event and the offender. While the event may be defined as irresponsible, wrong, or criminal, the offender is ought to be supported and viewed as a whole person. Second, those who administer reintegrative shaming must represent all the interests involved (i.e., offender, victim, and the law) to mete out a fair and effective solution to the problem (i.e., the final goal is reintegration and restoration). Third, apology, repentance, and forgiveness must occur in order to terminate the separation of the offender and victim and to enforce reintegration rituals (Braithwaite and Mugford 1994). Another study on restorative justice conferences suggests that these types of conferences tended to have a greater and positive psychological impact on participants’ view on the legitimacy of the law (Tyler et al. 2007).

Reintegrative shaming theory has also been applied to a study on nursing homes’ compliance to regulatory rules in Australia. The study showed that the nursing homes that had inspection teams who had a reintegrative shaming philosophy (high disapproval and high reintegration scores) showed greater improvement in regulatory compliance, compared to inspection teams having other philosophies (i.e., tolerance [low on disapproval and high on reintegration] or stigmatizing [high on disapproval and low on reintegration]). In addition, the more interdependency between regulators and the nursing home managers, the more compliant the nursing home managers are toward the regulations (Makkai and Braithwaite 1994).

Despite the vastly different social conditions in Western and Eastern countries, scholars have also attempted to examine the validity of the claims made by reintegrative shaming theory in Asian countries. Using a sample of 1,725 adolescents (ages 11–17) in China, one study attempted to identify the general effect of reintegrative shaming theory and the predictive effect of delinquency disapproval (shaming) and forgiveness (reintegration) on delinquency involvement. The study found that parental shaming, parental forgiveness, and peer shaming had reduced the involvement of predatory offenses. However, when the interactive effect of shaming and forgiveness was introduced in the multivariate analysis, reintegrative shaming theory (represented by the interaction term of shaming and reintegration) did not appear to be a significant predictor of predatory offense involvement (Zhang and Zhang 2004).

The study in China, described above, generated somewhat mixed results about the theory. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Asian cultures, such as in China and Japan, which are influenced by Confucianism and centered on family, frequently use shaming and guilt induction as means of informal and formal social control (Braithwaite 1989). This widespread use of shaming within the family model has been regarded as contributing to the low crime rates in these countries. In the next section, two unique crime prevention and control programs, bangjiao in China and bizai shobun in Japan, are described in order to illustrate how the principles of reintegrative shaming work in these unique sociocultural contexts.

Reintegrative Shaming In Asia

Compared to individualism shown in Western countries, many of the countries in Asia are based on ideas of communitarianism. Due to strong Confucian influence, Southeast Asia in particular (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan) holds high regards for social status, hierarchy, order, peace, and harmony. These values help promote conformity and submission to group interests. In contrast, the values fundamental to Western ideas of individualism – individual rights and freedom – are only placed in a relative context in these Asian countries.

As a result, a communitarian society prefers informal social control to formal social control. Collective citizen action is considered an effective strategy for maintaining peace and harmony, solving disputes, controlling crime, and reducing the fear of crime. To foster an effective informal social control, citizens are taught these social responsibilities through socialization, which is to behave appropriately according to group/social norms and rules. This takes place first and foremost within the family, then at school, in the neighborhood, and in the workplace. In addition, citizens are expected to help others observe the rules of ritual propriety and help educate and correct behaviors that deviate from the norms. This network of informal social control is largely operated on reciprocal interdependencies with mutual respect. The bang-jiao program widely practiced throughout urban neighborhoods in China represents such an informal social control model.

Bang-Jiao And Reintegrative Shaming In China

One of the major differences between social control in China and Western countries is that the Chinese attempt to control both the behavior and minds of the people. In contrast to the Western concept of original sin, Confucianism assumes the goodness in people. Crime is thus viewed as the result of the environmental influence. To offset the negative influence of the environment and help individuals get in touch with the good of their inner selves, Confucius and his followers believed in the importance of the rule of li (moral code). This was because li was viewed as essential in fostering an internationalization of the basic moral principles, promoting voluntary compliance to the rule, and being virtuous and good. Confucius also believed in the power of education in shaping people’s thoughts and behaviors. Moral awakening through thought education is considered the primary stabilizer of society (Chen 2002).

In this process of moral education, shaming is regarded as playing a critical role – a role that calls attention to the damage the deviant/criminal has done to the victim/community and a moral imperative to correct the wrongs and amend the broken relationships caused by the deviant/criminal act. To the Chinese, shaming can generate both negative (e.g., stigma) and positive (e.g., deterrence, rehabilitation) results, depending on the strategies (Chen 2002).

One strategy is early intervention. Nipping crime in the bud is common wisdom rooted in Chinese philosophy. Early intervention only requires a small dosage of shaming and small educational efforts could result in full reintegration. Even though early intervention may run the risks of intrusion into other people’s lives, it is taken for granted and viewed not as meddling, but caring.

Another strategy is popular participation. Chinese social control is from the bottom up, not the top down. The Chinese prefer to handle their own crime and delinquency problems in their community rather than leaving them to the professionals. The popular participation approach ensures a swifter and more effective crime control service because those who deliver the service presumably have more intimate knowledge about the deviant person as well as the act and have more stakes in the quality of service.

The total approach is yet another strategy used in crime prevention and control. As China moves toward legalization and professionalization, greater emphasis is given to law and the legal professionals in addressing major legal issues such as crime. Nevertheless, legal professionals, such as the police and judicial officers, are expected to use all sorts of means (e.g., legal, administrative, and social) to prevent crime and reintegrate offenders. Bang-jiao in urban neighborhoods of China represents one such program.

Bang-jiao literally means, assisting, helping, guiding, and directing offenders, especially juvenile offenders (Zhang et al. 1996). It is a community-based program that utilizes remedial and preventative measures for controlling crime. Even though no particular group of individuals are excluded from the objects of bang-jiao, bang-jiao typically handles predelinquents, delinquents, deviants, and offenders who have committed minor offenses and are without a prior record. These groups of people are targeted, because they are the mostly likely to be “helped” (bang) and “educated” (jiao) successfully (13–28 years of age). Most bang-jiao programs are situated in urban neighborhoods, and they consist of parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, coworkers, resident committee members, and/or local police who work as a team in carrying out bang-jiao.

Even though bang-jiao is community based and represents an extra legal measure to crime prevention and control, it still has some basic principles guiding its program. According to the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Law (1991), bang-jiao must be conducted based on the following principles: (1) fairness and equality, (2) practical guidance, and (3) response to genuine repentance with love, emotional support, and sincere acceptance of deviants back into the community (Zhang et al. 1996).

The characteristics and process of a typical bang-jiao intervention can be illustrated with the following example. A teenage boy is sent to a work-study school for rehabilitation because of repeated thefts. After recommendations from his bang-jiao team and work-study school principals, he was transferred to a normal school. Every day he came home after dark, because he was too ashamed to be seen by his neighbors. The boy’s mother finally talked to the bang-jiao team members. The team members visited the neighbors and found out that the neighbors wanted to communicate with the boy, not ridicule him, but did not know how. The bang-jiao team discussed how to overcome these barriers with the neighbors and decided to hold a community event in which they knew the boy was interested in and would participant in (community painting exhibition). They boy was invited and at the event he was highly praised for his work. This experience changed the boy, and he started being involved with community events and being a part of the community (Braithwaite 2002).

From a theoretical standpoint, reintegrative shaming facilitates this process of bang-jiao. Although little empirical research has examined the effectiveness of bang-jiao in deterring crimes and reducing recidivism rates, one study based on self-report data suggests there is a significant negative relationship based on reports by inmates living in communities with a bang-jiao program (Zhang et al. 1996). More specifically, the inmates who lived in neighborhoods with an active bang-jiao program reported a significantly lower likelihood of recidivism compared to those who lived in neighborhoods without an active bang-jiao program.

Even though crime rates, including juvenile delinquency rates, have surged since the economic reforms in the 1980s in China, the majority of juvenile delinquents were able to successfully have their deviant label removed and be reintegrated back into the community. This was supported with the low recidivism rate of between 8 % and 15 % annually in recent years (Chen 2002).

Bizai Shobun And Reintegrative Shaming In Japan

Similar to the Chinese view of the relationship between the individual and society, the Japanese see individuals not as an isolated entity, but as part of the network. There is a kind of social web that binds individuals into a collective. Within this largely communitarian society, punishment is not geared toward retribution, but rehabilitation and restoration.

Due to the importance of status and family to an individual, shaming has different meanings in the Japanese culture. Its potency can be different as well, particularly when compared with Western countries.

When assessing punishment, one of the criteria used in Western culture is severity of punishment (proportionality of punishment to crime), typically measured by the length of prison sentences and/or the amount of monetary fines imposed on the convicted offenders. In Japan, however, the focus is different. Contrary to isolation and punishment of the individual wrongdoer, the Japanese prefer restitution and restoration. Numerous terms, such as benevolent, paternalistic, and familiar, have been used to describe this reintegrative shaming practice unique to the Japanese. Among these different terms, an individualized decision-making model seems to best capture the Japanese crime control and prevention practice (Foote 1992).

The Japanese criminal-justice system is benevolent in that its goal is to achieve reformation and reintegration of offenders into society through lenient sanctions tailored to the offender’s particular circumstances (Foote 1992). This benevolent-paternalism model emphasizes love and mutual respect so that the best interest of the offender and his/her rehabilitation is the focus of any decisions. The success of this family model depends on officers’ use of widespread power of discretion. It not only permits but also expects public officials to use discretion and take a preventive approach to crime and disorder. The major factors officers consider include family circumstances, employment status, and other types of support mechanisms available to the offender and, to a lesser extent, satisfaction of the victim.

Central to the Japanese practice of restoration and reintegrative shaming are concepts of apology, repentance, and forgiveness. To apologize, the wrongdoer must first confess to the crime. The importance of confession in the Japanese criminal-justice system can hardly be overstated. Numerous scholars of the Japanese legal system concur that confession, apology, and begging for forgiveness are essential elements at virtually every stage of the criminal process in Japan. Confession and admission of guilt are not used as part of the plea bargain, but are regarded as a gesture of complete submission to authorities in Japan. Confession, accompanied by sincere apology and remorsefulness, is viewed as having both the probative and correctional value. It aids the police, the judge, and the correctional officers to better achieve the goals of holding criminal offenders accountable for their wrongdoings and reforming them into law-abiding citizens.

The ability of legal officials to exercise widespread discretionary power lies in the great faith that is bestowed on public officials. Legal officials enjoy great autonomy and widespread power sometimes beyond the legal spheres in Japan. When dealing with an offender, the classification scheme of legal (e.g., offense severity, prior criminal record) vs. extralegal (e.g., age, gender, employment) factors commonly used in Western countries may not be relevant in Japan. Instead, means of punishment/treatment will be considered favorably if they are least disruptive to the deviants’/criminals’ life, fit individual circumstances, and most likely lead to the successful reintegration back into the community.

Reintegrative shaming as a punishment philosophy has been institutionalized in Japan. All three authorities in the criminal-justice system are given widespread discretion when disposing of cases. For example, the police have the authority not to report minor offenses (bizai shobun) (Code of /Criminal Procedure, art. 246), the prosecutors have the authority to suspend prosecution (Code of Criminal Procedure), and the courts have the authority to suspend execution of sentences (Criminal Code, art. 25).

Below the practice of bizai shobun is summarized to show how the police, in exercising their discretionary power, translate the philosophy of reintegrative shaming into practice.

The Japanese police enjoy widespread discretion when performing their crime prevention and law enforcement duties. For example, the Japanese local police have the authority to conduct residential surveys twice a year for the purpose of getting to know the residents, registering new comers, and preventing future crimes. The Japanese police officers may stop and question anyone in public without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. They also have the authority to interrogate a criminal suspect for a lengthy period of time without a warrant. The relative “crimefree society,” combined with high citizen respect and cooperation in Japan, make the police even more powerful and free in using the tools at their disposal when dealing with criminal suspects. The Japanese police have a “quasi-judicial” function, especially when dealing with simple cases or cases involving petty offenses. One such power is discretion to drop trivial cases from further investigation and charges.

Bizai shobun is rationalized based on two principles: (1) when involving minor offenses, the police shall not put victims under undue psychological stress with an unnecessarily punitive punishment of offenders and (2) to enhance efficiency of the police work, police should focus on more serious crimes and use informal means in dealing with the less serious crimes (Arakawa 1987).

To maintain jurisdictional consistency, the police power of bizai shobun is granted by the prosecutor. Typically the supervising prosecutor’s office will issue an order for specific types of trivial offenses to be dropped from further processing by the police. These trivial offenses commonly include assault, theft, fraud, embezzlement, and gambling. For example, in the early 1990s there were instructions for theft cases to be dropped under three conditions: (1) if the value of stolen goods did not exceed 10,000 yen ($85); (2) if the offender had a fixed residency, which excluded transients (particularly foreigners); and (3) if the offender repented (Johnson 2002).

It was estimated that up to 40 % of criminal suspects arrested by the police are released without any charges. Many of these cases were resolved through negotiation, apology, compensation, and forgiveness between the offender and the victim. Furthermore, victims, their family, and their community are critical in the police decision to employ bizai shobun, because they must be willing to accept the offender’s apology and to forgive him/ her. This is to ensure the successful reintegration of the offender back into the community.

Limitations Of Reintegrative Shaming

One of the most fundamental criticisms of reintegrative shaming theory is its incomplete conceptualization of sanctions (Hay 2001). Braithwaite depicts sanctions as shaming, either reintegrative or stigmatizing, and makes the assumption that all deviance is detected and reacted to with some type of corrective action. However, deleterious reactions (no reaction) to deviance are common. Even if existing, some reactions to deviance may only intend to evoke fear of further punishment, rather than trying to evoke remorse/shame. Reintegrative shaming theory is thus regarded as incomplete, because shaming is not the only form of corrective reaction.

The concept of reintegrative shaming has the obvious strengths of maintaining continuous and interdependent relationships. However, shaming in communitarian societies (e.g., Confucian culture) may become too powerful and overwhelming, thus, having the risk of destroying robust individuation within secure social bonds. An example of the danger associated with engulfment of the individual is the high suicide rate in Japan and, to a certain degree, in China (Braithwaite 1989)

Reintegrative shaming theory is also limited in scope to personal and property offenses where there is a clear consensus regarding their moral wrongfulness (Hay 2001). In cases where societal consensus is unclear, such as white-collar crime, drug offenses, and public order offenses (e.g., prostitution, gambling), shaming may not take place (either not expressed by the public or dismissed by the wrongdoer), let alone reintegration.

Besides these conceptual challenges, reintegrative shaming theory faces difficulties of empirical validation. Some of the key concepts such as shame and reintegration are difficult to operationalize and measure with empirical data (Zhang 1995; Zhang and Zhang 2004). In addition, major moderating and mediating factors that may indirectly affect the potency of reintegrative shaming have yet to be established. For example, a study found that procedural justice (i.e., a sense of being treated fairly) affected how well offenders responded to efforts of reintegrative shaming (Tyler et al. 2007).

These issues of measurement are magnified particularly in cross-cultural settings where definitions and perceptions of shame may diverge markedly. A successful shaming program in one type of society (e.g., communitarian) may not work well in another type of society (e.g., individualistic).

Last, but not the least, shaming may run the risk of civil vigilantism. It is especially noteworthy of its potentially massive invasions of personal privacy in the online environment. An example involves the growing popularity of the “Human-Flesh Search” (renrou sousuo) in China where individuals’ private records were dug out and posted on the website by Internet users for a variety of reasons such as personal revenge and resentment to corrupt public officials and celebrity. This counters the very intent of maintaining a civil and orderly society (Skoric et al. 2010). Within the criminal-justice system, reintegrative shaming programs may run the risk of widening the net of social control and blurring the line between moral and legal issues.


Reintegrative shaming, as practiced in China and Japan, place great faith on public officials – their personal morality, skills, and judgment – in making important decisions about law and order. By using extralegal means in dealing with essentially a legal matter, these criminal-justice systems runs the risk of corruption and undermining procedural transparency and the predictability and fairness of the decisions. Despite of these potential limitations, reintegrative shaming provides a plausible, alternative means for crime control and prevention. Reintegrative shaming has been demonstrated theoretically, and to a certain degree, empirically, to be more effective and efficient than the traditional means of social control.


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