Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Dr. William Wakefield


Scarlet letter sentencing dispositions are innovative alternatives to incarceration posited as special probation conditions granted to offenders deemed able to live in the community. These sanctions resemble scarlet letter punishments of the Seventeenth Century as illustrated in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter for Hester Prynne. They are designed as bumper or windshield stickers, yard signs, screen prints on T-shirts, and public apologies. This study investigates the proliferation of these innovative penalties created by judges to require drunk drivers, sex offenders, thieves/burglars, white-collar criminals, and drug offenders to publicly disclose the nature of their crime and identify themselves as perpetrators. Societal and inmate attitudes toward crime and punishment are considered to determine if the threat of public exposure can deter criminal activity and protect the public. Convicted offenders’ perception of probation as punishment versus incarceration is considered to determine whether they fear probation more than imprisonment. The legal context of judicial discretion and the use of scarlet letter dispositions suggests problems with judicial reviewability and the advantages and disadvantages of using scarlet letters to punish convicted offenders. An exploratory study of Nebraska’s 4th Judicial District Judges was conducted. The feasibility of scarlet letter dispositions may only be meaningful to those judges who impose them.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Criminal Justice and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright Catherine A. Elwell March 9, 1992