Category Archives: Controlling Violence

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?




Intimate Partner Violence in Georgia, and the Violence Against Women Act

This week in class we discussed the legal considerations of violence, with specific discussion of the prosecution of perpetrators of interpersonal violence (IPV).  Dr.  Kay Levine’s lecture and assigned readings looked at how few domestic violence crimes actually get prosecuted and sentenced in this country.  There are multiple biases (or at least pre-conceived notions) that play into how (or whether) domestic violence crimes are prosecuted and sentenced, such as the belief that a violent crime between two intimate people is somehow less severe than the same crime between strangers; or that a crime between two people of the same socioeconomic class seems to be less “offensive” than an upwardly mobile crime; and that a sexual assault between two people who know each other does not fit the concept of a “real” rape (Grosso, Baldus, & Woodworth, 2010;  Daly & Bouhours, 2010; .

The timing of this discussion was appropriate, after a year of bipartisan bickering in Congress over the reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  The Act finally passed in February of this year, after being allowed to expire in 2012, for the first time since it’s initial passage in 1994.   Despite GOP efforts, the law was expanded to include additional provisions to protect members of Native American tribes and those living in such territories (who were not receiving protection previously), and to specifically include people in the LGBT community (who have historically been marginalized with regards to protections from interpersonal violence).  As well, the law includes protections for men and boys, and strengthens federal penalties and further enables prosecution of rape crimes.    The Act funds training of law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on the realities of domestic violence, and requires that protection orders be recognized in all states and tribal and territorial jurisdictions within the U.S.

Not surprisingly, here in Georgia, both Republican Senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, voted against the VAWA, as did each of the nine Republican congressmen in the state.  (One representative, Paul Broun, went so far as to vote, along with eight Republican Congressmen from other states, against a resolution to allow the House of Representatives to even consider re-authorization of the Act.)  Only the five Democrats in the state voted in favor of the bill.  Some rhetoric notwithstanding (regarding funding in the face of uncontrolled national debt, and the assertion that domestic violence is an issue to be managed by individual states), in general, Republican legislators have opposed VAWA because of the specific inclusion of Native American women and LGBT women. In fact, they introduced (but failed to get passed) a version of the bill that did not include such language.

Sadly, this knuckle dragging by Georgia legislators is reflected in the state’s handling of domestic violence.   Georgia has consistently ranked poorly in its prevention of violence against women. In 2009, Georgia was the 10th highest in the nation in homicides of women by men, most of which were cases of IPV.  There seems to be a culture of acceptance of violence against women, as being partly appropriate and partly unavoidable, as evidenced by the need to separate myth from fact by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which refutes claims that victims have done something to bring the abuse on themselves, or that abusers tend to be somehow disadvantaged (and therefore excused?).

Why are some legislators so opposed to a law that would fund proven successful efforts at preventing violent crimes against vulnerable people?  Unlike the limitless efforts by the NRA to prevent legislation to restrict availability of certain firearms, we can’t point the finger at an Anti-Female lobby spending huge sums of money to keep women in their place.  It can only be that gender biases and biases against alternative lifestyles still exist in too many minds of the gender that continues to dominate every branch of our government.   Which brings us back to our low rate of prosecution and sentencing of domestic violence crimes.

Related story:  (A photojournal of an IPV incident, by photographer Sara Naomi Lewcowicz on Time Lightbox.)


Curry, T. R. (2010).  The conditional effects of victim and offender ethnicity and victim gender on sentences for non-capital cases.  Punishment & Society, 12:4 (p. 438-462).

Daly, K.; & Bouhours, B. (2010). Rape and attrition in the legal process: a comparative analysis of five countries. Crime and Justice, 39:1 (2010) (pp. 565-650)

Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2012. Myths and facts.

Grosso, C. M.; Baldus, D. C.; Woodworth, G. (2010). The role of intimacy in the prosecution and sentencing of capital murder cases in the U.S. Armed Forces, 1984 – 2005. New Mexico Law Review.

Israel, J. (2013). The nine Republican men who won’t consider the Violence Against Women Act. Thinkprogress.

Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives (2013). (2013).