Punishing Prisoners: Corporal Style?

Whipping, Strapping, Spanking, Lashing, are all better known to the political world as corporal punishment.  While the proponents of corporal punishment in schools have died down, the use of physical punishments in jail has always been a hot debate.

The debate has been sparked again following a brutal beating of a homeless man in jail in South Carolina and the proposed legislature in Montana to use corporal punishment instead of jail time. In this case, he argues the beatings would be more humane. And for beatings in jail, some argue that beating prisoners shapes them up and builds an environment of control. However, I cannot forget what we are thinking about doing –beating a human being.

If we beat them, what message are we sending? Are they not human beings? Are they exclusions to the rule?

Looking at corporal punishment systems used in the past, there were many problems. First off, the system was inconsistent because of the amount of subjectivity involved. The force used to beat somebody is not an exact science, and there are always guards who put the matters into their own hands. When physically punished I postulate that the prisoners will either fall apart or not care. Some people may be affected, but most likely in a negative way. Then there are the tough guys who are used to physical violence and couldn’t care less. If anything, we are just sending them the message that violence is an okay answer.

To examine the influence of corporal punishment on a prisoner, I looked at the study of prisoners in Canada in the 1950’s, when strapping was employed as a method of punishment. The prisoners were later interviewed and the majority of their sentiments are similar to the stories below:

“He felt humiliated because he considered it was a child’s punishment. He did not think the strapping had done him any particular harm. It had no real effect in influencing his subsequent conduct … He had not cried out when strapped although he knew others who had. The other inmates had kidded him somewhat after his strapping but had shown no particular sympathy towards him. His skin was not broken but he remained bruised for about two weeks.”

“During the interview, the hatred he felt for those who had subjected him to corporal punishment was very obvious and his testimony was given in an electrified atmosphere. He stressed that he had had nine strokes and did not utter a groan. He felt that he had been unjustly punished.”

“The witness said that the strapping had not influenced his conduct for good. It was a degrading punishment worthy of ‘Julius Caesar’. It was outmoded. It was torture. The pain from the strapping was much less important than the loss of pride and the humiliation. The principal feeling is that of humiliation and embarrassment resulting from being tied down and subjected to a childish punishment in the presence of prison staff. The witness had not cried out when strapped but he had exhibited his hostility to the guards by talking back to them afterwards. He had to do this to relieve the tension after being strapped. The strapping had made him a little more cocky, a little more belligerent with the guards.”

The last man chose to be strapped and stay out of jail, and it was all part of his plan to get out. He did get out, and he did at this time commit two murders.

The study’s research confirmed that adrenalin output increases sharply during fear, anger and physical punishment. “When this is prolonged or often repeated, the endocrine balance fails to return to baseline. The victim becomes easily angered and prone to poor impulse control and spontaneous violent outbursts.” The study then considered whether delinquents grew from lack of discipline, or from too much discipline.

Dr. Alan Button reports, “This, it now appears is the wrong question. We should be asking about sequence. Parents of delinquents, all of them, report physical beating in the first ten to twelve years of the child’s life, but rarely thereafter. They ‘wash their hands’ of the kid because ‘nothing works.’ Then the judge, finding that the boy has no supervision, denounces permissiveness.”

If it didn’t work then, why would it work now?

 

Links:

http://www.corpun.com/canada2.htm

http://saiv.net/SourceBook/Storage/documents/doc_maurer.pdf

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