Category Archives: Types of 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?




This week many topics were discussed in our Violence class. I have chosen to focus on Dr. Abigail Hankin’s lecture and specifically on child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and elder abuse.

Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse is rampant. Approximately 2-3% of children suffer abuse or neglect every year which results 1000-2000 deaths. An estimated 80% of child abuse and neglect victims are under 4 years old and 40% of the victims are under 12 months old. Children who have behavior problems or special needs are more likely to be abused. Often the abuser is someone who is a caregiver to the child but not related by blood. Caregivers who have inappropriate expectations of the child, have a mental health history, and substance abuse are more likely to abuse a child. One way that these individuals become caregivers is dating the parent of the child. Child abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological maltreatment. Physical abuse includes shaking, slapping, punching, beating, kicking, burning and biting. Neglect is when a caretaker does something or fails to do something that results in harm. Often neglect is a failure to meet basic needs of food, shelter, medical care and education.

Victims of child abuse are more likely to be involved in aggressive and violent behavior later in life. Child sexual abuse also has been linked to suicidal behavior. (Krug, 1084). Other consequences of child abuse and neglect include increased aggression with peers, difficulty forming friends, increased rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. (Krug, 1084).

Domestic Violence (aka Intimate Partner Abuse)
Domestic violence is very common. It is often cyclical with stages of tension building up, battering, and the honeymoon phase. The honeymoon phase typically involves the abuser apologizing and saying it will never happen again and how much he or she loves the victim. Then the tension builds again and the cycle repeats. For example, Kansas City Chief player Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend who was the mother of his three month old child before taking his own life. Other examples include the ongoing saga between Chris Brown and Rhiana, Madonna and Sean Penn, Tina Turner and Ike Turner, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.

Individuals highest at risk of being a victim are women who are divorced, separated, or single, economically distressed, and pregnant women. Those highest at risk of being an abuser include people who have recently lost their jobs, abuse drugs, and are jealous or possessive. People often ask or don’t understand why the victim of domestic violence don’t pick up and leave the abuser. These victims might stay because they believe the abuser will change or didn’t mean to hurt them or out of love for the abuser. Fear also induces individuals to stay in an abusive relationship. Victims may not disclose the abuse out of fear, shame, or abuser threats.

Elder Abuse
Not all types of abuse are physical (or purely physical). While approximately 2-10% of elderly people are victims of abuse, 80% of elder abuse cases go unreported.

Examples of Elder Abuse
A Duluth woman lost her home and all her money when one of her sons stole close to $400,000. Investigators said her son gave himself power of attorney allowing him access to the funds.

A Dekalb woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for exploiting elderly and disabled adults she was caring for. The elderly and disabled were housed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. They did not get adequate food and medication.

Information from this post comes from a lecture given by Abigail Hankin on February 25, 2013 at Emory, articles linked within the post, class notes from my Child Welfare Law and Policy course, The World Report on Violence and Health by Etienne G. Krug, James A. Mercy, Linda L. Dahlberg, Anthony B. Zwi published in The Lancet Vol. 360, October 5, 2002. Evolution of the Dependency Component of the Juvenile Court by Marvin Ventrell (1998).

The Interrupters

Abigail Hankin mentioned the documentary The Interrupters which portrays those trying to stop youth violence on the streets of Chicago. Many of the Violence Interrupters are former violent offenders and gang members or leaders themselves. Below is a link to the full documentary.

This American Life

For another taste of youth violence in Chicago check out the This American Life episodes below. The radio crew spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago. Last year 29 current and recent students of Harper were shot. The show chronicles the lives of students and administrators surviving the gun violence. The story is told in two parts.

Morals Meets Finance: Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Cartoon following the failure of a Massachusetts ballot measure that would have legalized doctor-assisted suicide, by Dan Wasserman

Cartoon following the failure of a Massachusetts ballot measure that would have legalized doctor-assisted suicide, by Dan Wasserman

Other than marijuana (see last week’s post), my home state of Oregon is known for its Doctor Assisted Suicide.

Currently doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon is dealt with the Death with Dignity Act. In order to qualify for the life-ending medication, the patient must be diagnosed as terminally ill with a prognosis of less than six months to live. It is, of course, completely voluntary on both the patient’s part and the doctor’s part. The Death with Dignity Act does not qualify legally as “suicide.”1

How frequent is this program? The 2012 Oregon Health Authority reported that 115 prescriptions were written last year in Oregon. The median age was 69 years old, and the most frequent diagnosis was cancer.2

Is right for our doctors to aid in ending a life? According to the 2011 Gallup poll, 45% of respondents agreed it was morally acceptable and 48% found it morally unacceptable, making it the most hotly debated topic in the survey.3 The moral debate can go on for ages –some will always view doctor-assisted suicide as cold-hearted justification for taking a life too soon while others will be comforted by the option of choosing death rather than being forced to live in pain.

So instead of telling you my opinion, I turn instead to the economics of doctor-assisted suicide. As we all know, end of life care can be expensive. So economically speaking, such measures could ultimately decrease the costs of terminal illness in cases where the patient will not recover and does not want to be sustained. According to an estimate from Emanuel and Battin, legalizing physician-assisted suicide could save as much as $627 million annually in the United States.

It is precisely because of its cost effectiveness that causes some to worry. The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law explains that “patients may be pressured to consent… when their care is expensive or burdensome to others.”  Even if not explicitly pressured by others, they may feel guilty about continuing their life for financial reasons.

Furthermore, those in the health care sector might be a source of pressure. Emanuel and Battin calculate, for example, that a large managed care plan could save around $3.3 million a year from doctor-assisted suicide. More than just care plans, hospitals also stand to save money from such a program.4

How should we deal with these competing economic factors? A bioethics and law expert Maxwell J. Mehlman, J.D., urges us to think about how a financial motivation would affect the situation. Suppose a patient is poor and seeks to participate –should we stop him or her from participating? Are we forcing them to die? But then, does denying the option of doctor-assisted suicide improve their condition in any way?5

Many questions can be asked about doctor assisted suicide, and they should be if we wish to develop comprehensive health-care for the terminally ill.