Newspapers in the Boston area are running a growing number of “mea culpas” that are ordered by the courts, reports National Public Radio. Increasingly, companies that plead guilty to crimes that harm the community – polluting, for example – are being required to publish an apology as part of their punishment. “Our company has discharged human waste directly into coastal Massachusetts waters,” reads an ad in the Boston Herald by The Rockmore Co., a ferry operator. The ad says the company has paid a “steep fine,” but people in the area seem more moved by the price the company is paying in reputation.
Former federal prosecutor Michael Sullivan has helped increase the use of these kinds of sanctions in Massachusetts, especially with companies that run afoul of environmental laws. The goal is deterrence, and Sullivan says the high-profile mea culpas also tend to be more satisfying to a public increasingly frustrated by corporate wrongdoing. “I think that’s what might frustrate the public – when it doesn’t appear that the company has been punished sufficiently enough, by simply writing a check,” he says. “It’s simply the cost of doing business when you’re caught.” “Shaming” sanctions raise age-old questions about making a punishment fit a crime. “Whether we call it vengeance, whether we call it psychic satisfaction, whether we call it restitution, we are getting at the core of what we as victims can rightfully claim to be entitled to,” says Ohio State University law Prof. Doug Berman.