Belle's "Scarlet Letter" Punishment Raises Eyebrows
By Dan Claxton | Mid-Missouri.com
e small Maries County city of Belle is giving some criminals a choice of punishment based on an age-old concept: Public humiliation.
Municipal Judge Richard Skouby has instituted a policy that gives some non-threatening offenders a choice right out of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter:" They can stand at a downtown "Corner of Shame" and hold a sign describing for their neighbors what they did.
Belle City Marshall Joe Turnbough says the new policy is primarily for those who do not show up for court dates or do not pay municipal fines on time. Each offender is given the choice of going to jail or standing on the Corner of Shame for two hours holding a large sign.
Judge Skouby says he doesn't consider it a laughing matter. "We're not playing games here. We have a very serious problem here of people not showing up for court and not paying their fines, and I'm trying my best to find a solution to that," he said.
Skouby says offenders still have to pay any fines levied against them. He says the signs only purge a contempt charge.
Turnbough says reaction in the town of about 1,500 has been mixed. "Some are for it, some are against it. I'd say there are more people who like it." He says whatever thier opinions, people are noticing.
Skouby says those who face the prospect of standing in public holding signs are taking it seriously. "About 90 percent...say 'We're going to get these fines taken care of because we don't want to wear the signs,'" he said.
The bottom line, according to Skouby, is that this is a serious matter that needs a solution. "I take my orders very seriously, and I was getting tired of people not taking them seriously."
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