Monday, December 10, 2007

A New Scarlet Letter?

Today's New York Times features an article about a new initiative being spearheaded by Andrew P. Thomas, the Phoenix, Arizona county attorney.
"[T]he bleary-eyed, disheveled and generally miserable visages of convicted drunken drivers...are available to the entire world via a Web site." The site,, includes photographs of drunk drivers convicted of misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Thomas has also put up five billboards around Phoenix (and more are to come) with photographs of convicted felons, "whose crimes, which almost always involve someone's death," are accompanied by the banner headline: "Drive drunk, see your mug shot here."

The article reports that "other states have used shame tactics like forcing convicted drunken drivers to use special license plates or pick up roadside litter wearing a placard announcing their crimes." Interestingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) is not cheering Mr. Thomas's initiative. M.A.D.D. is in favor of the Web site's informational aspects and concern for the victims of drunk driving. However, "M.A.D.D. would not want to be involved in calling out offenders. We are interested in research- and science-based activities proven to stop drunk driving." M.A.D.D. cites activities such as "putting devices on the cars of prior offenders that they are forced to breathe into in order to start their vehicles."

Certainly no one is in favor of drunk driving. However, Phoenix's approach seems like a particularly punitive way to approach the problem. As one defense attorney in Phoenix points out, most of the drunk drivers have no prior criminal history. In addition, other criminals, such as sex offenders, are not being targeted in the same way.

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