Wednesday 22 June 2011

Corporal punishment: Is it a good alternative to imprisonment?

Corporal punishment involves either flogging with a whip across a person’s back or strapping or the use of a cane across a person’s hands, buttocks, legs or the soles of a person’s feet.

Given the choice between five years in prison and 10 lashes across your back with a whip, which would you chose?

Peter Moskos, a criminologist and former Baltimore police officer, claims that flogging can be a more humane form of punishment. And it’s cheaper than housing white-collar criminals in prison or jail. In his new book In Defense of Flogging, Moskos argues that re-introducing corporal punishment into the U.S. justice system would save money on all levels of the highly cost-ineffective incarceration system; and it would allow non-violent criminals to go on with their lives without being stigmatized.

If the news media writes up a story about a non-violent offender being sent to prison initially before he ops out of prison by agreeing to be flogged, he will still be stigmatized.

His proposal raises an interesting question. Is corporal punishment a good idea? Should criminals be able to choose being flogged with a whip as an alternative to being sent to prison?

Peter Moskos makes it quite clear that he is not suggesting that criminals who commit violent crimes or rapists and pedophiles should not be sent to prison. They are sent to prison so that society will be protected. He is speaking of non-violent people who break the law.

Let’s first deal with imprisonment as a deterrence. Does imprisonment really work? I think it will deter future criminality to those who would have much to lose if they re-offend after they have been released from prison. The kind of people I am speaking of are professionals and trades people who can return to their occupations, prisoners who have families to return to, those who will lose their homes and those who are conscious of their reputations and for this reason, want to put their criminal acts behind them.

But what about those criminals who after having served time in prison have nothing to return to? They have no profession or trade that they are trained in and can return to. They have no homes that are theirs they can return to.There are those who are single and have no close family members who will suffer if they are returned to prison and those who don’t concern themselves about their reputations. It is obvious that adjustment difficulties after the offender is released from prison, such as social rejection, may also influence re-offensive behavior.

Offenders may re-offend after they return to the community. This re-offense behavior is known as recidivism.

Orsagh and Chen wrote in their book in 1988; “As the sentence becomes longer, expected legitimate earnings and employment opportunities decrease because of the loss of contact with the job market, expected earnings and employment in illegitimate activity increases (assuming that prison is a school for crime), and the distaste or unwillingness to engage in 8 hours per day, 5 days per week work activity increases as one becomes accustomed to the inactivity of prison life. All of these effects enhance post prison criminal propensities.” unquote

For a great many incarcerated prisoners, imprisonment doesn’t deter them from committing more crimes after they are released from prison. That being as it is, we are then forced to ask this rhetorical question; Should we send non-violent offenders to prison so that they will be reformed?

A 2002 study survey showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994 in the United States, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison. However, the study found no evidence that spending more time in prison raises the recidivism rate, and found that those serving the longest time, 61 months or more, had a significantly lower re-arrest rate (54.2%) than every other category of prisoner. This is most likely explained by the older average age of those released with the longest sentences, and the study shows a strong negative correlation between recidivism and age upon release.

Nowadays in countries like Canada and the United States, the courts have chosen alternatives to imprisonment such as probation, conditional sentences (requirement to remain in their homes except when going to church, shopping, seeing a doctor or in many cases, going to work) and weekends in a detention centre.

Canada had at one time, the world’s record for sending offenders to prison. The United States now has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009, the US incarcerated 743 per 100,000 population. That came to 2,292,133 persons who were incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails at year end 2009.

As many as 7.9% of sentenced prisoners in federal prisons on September 30, 2009 were in for violent crimes. 52.4% of sentenced prisoners in state prisons at year end 2008 were in for violent crimes. This means that 92.1% of sentenced prisoners were incarcerated in federal prisons for non-violent crimes and 47.6% of sentence prisoners were incarcerated in state prisons for non-violent crimes. The total number of non-violent offenders who were incarcerated in federal and state prisons was well over a million each year.

Now according to Peter Moskos, that many prisoners should be given the option of being flogged as an alternative to spending time in prison.

Countries such as Nigeria, Malaysia, Brunei, Saudi Arabia and Singapore have retained flogging, and/or the use of the cane as a punishment long after other countries have declared it a violation of human rights.

Last night, (June 21, 2011) I watched a television show on corporal punishment and it showed a naked man being caned in a prison yard in Singapore. Judging from what I saw, I can only imagine that the pain from the strokes had to really be severe. He was secured to a wooden apparatus that was slanted forward approximately 45 degrees and a wide belt was secured across his lower back and another immediately below his buttocks. The strokes across his buttocks were vicious and extremely swift with what looked like a cane that was flexible.

In Canada, a prisoner in a federal penitentiary in the past would be subjected to a similar form of punishment in which he would be secured to a wooden table while in a bending position in way that his buttocks were at the end of the table and his feet were secured to restraints near the floor. The leather strap (euphemistically termed ‘the paddle’) was approximately 14 inches (35,5 centimetres) in length and approximately 3 inches (7.6 centimetres) in width. The handle was just as long as the strap which made it possible to bring the strap across the buttocks more forcibly. In a provincial reformatory, (now called Correctional Institutions) he would be strapped while secured to a wooden apparatus that left him standing up while being strapped. The strap was used as a mean of discipline against unruly inmates.

In 1956, I worked in a young offenders facility in Alberta as the program director.

There would be three times when a young offender could be strapped on the bare buttocks or his hands―direct disobedience, bullying or theft. While I was there, an inmate disobeyed an order I gave him and unfortunately for him, he did it right in front of the other inmates. My immediate supervisor said that as per the institution’s policy, I was to strap the teenager on his bare buttocks five times. I did it that night. A month later, I saw a larger and older inmate beating a younger and smaller inmate. My supervisor ordered me to strap him also on his bare buttocks that night. I did this also. I felt bad about inflicting that kind of pain on those boys but that was what was done in those days. Needless to say, the two boys gave us no problems after that.

When I worked in an Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario in 1959 as the senior boy’s supervisor, I could have strapped unruly boys but I didn’t. I had developed a much better way of disciplining the boys. Each Sunday morning, they were given a hundred points. With those points, they got all of the privileges we could give them including the dance at the school every Saturday night. But if they were bad, they could lose anywhere from 5 to 25 points depending on just how bad they were when they misbehaved on any specific occasion. They could work off those lost points for one hour for every five points if they chose to do so. This method of discipline was so successful, that when I proposed it to a young offenders facility just north of Toronto, it was used there for the next twenty years.

In Canada prior to 1972, a judge could order that a violent offender or a rapist being sent to prison was to be flogged five times on his back when he arrived in prison and another five times a week before his release from prison. It was believed that this kind of treatment would be an effective deterrent.

It really wasn’t. It simply made the flogged prisoners angry at the society that inflicted that kind of pain on them.

From 1941 to 1945 a particular prisoner who was close to forty years of age was almost continuously in prisons. He had been subject to corporal punishment four times while in prison. He had three sentences of corporal punishment in his first term in a provincial prison; one of fifteen strokes for attempted escape and two other sentences for fighting with a fellow inmate. He received corporal punishment again in his second term in a provincial prison for fighting with a fellow inmate.

Another prisoner who was thirty-three years of age, had a grade eight education, was single and had no trade nor any steady record of employment. He had been almost continuously in prison since 1940, having served five sentences in provincial jails, and two in federal penitentiaries. He had received five sentences of corporal punishment for infractions against prison discipline commencing with two sentences of three and five strokes respectively in one prison sentence in 1942. In 1945 he had received seven and later fifteen strokes for participation in a prison disturbance and for attempted escape. Several years later, he received ten strokes for participating in a disturbance in a federal penitentiary.

Now obviously corporal punishment didn’t work as a deterrent for these prisoners.

Canada in its wisdom banned the use of corporal punishment in prisons, reformatories and young offenders facilities in 1972.

One of the best descriptions of a man being strapped in a reformatory in Guelph, Ontario was written by Roger Caron, dubbed by the press as "Mad Dog Caron", who had attempted to rob banks as a teenager in the 1950s and was still in prison when his book was published in 1978. Let me quote from his book.

The following morning I was taken up before the superintendent, Good-Time Charley. He was so called because he took delight in forfeiting a portion of a prisoner's earned remission. He was a tall, well-built, distinguished-looking man, who carried a gun in a shoulder holster and jogged a mile in the gym every morning before he started his work day.

I had four duckets,(charges) the most serious being assault on a guard. I pleaded Not Guilty and the court found me Guilty as charged and this time sentenced me to ten strokes of the Paddle. I would visit the Limbo Room after all. (the room where offenders would be strapped)

Adhering to formality in the case of corporal punishment, two guards escorted me in handcuffs to the shrink's office for him to judge if I was mentally fit to undergo such severe punishment. All the prisoners in the joint considered him to be slightly off-centre himself. 'Take him away, gentlemen,' said the doctor, displeased at my tart reply to his weird questions. 'Just the therapy he needs.'

Our next visit was to the joint hospital where the Croaker (doctor) checked out my heart, pulse, temperature, and my buttocks to see if I could physically withstand the punishment that was in store for me without having a heart attack or something like that. What an unfeeling bastard he was.

It was shortly after one o'clock in the afternoon by the time the elevator descended into the catacombs with me still in handcuffs and a dozen witnesses escorting me to the Limbo Room, just like I was going to the electric chair. It was cold and damp as our solemn procession moved slowly along down that long stretch of spooky nothingness. I was shivering visibly because I was cold and scared, and only seventeen years old. I had heard so many gruesome stories about the paddle, how it castrated one guy and how it crippled another. In my heart was also the fear of displaying fear.

By the time we came to a halt before a metal door, my teeth were rattling and my knees were weak but I was determined to be brave. A long key was inserted, followed by an audible click; next, two locking bars were withdrawn, sounding shockingly loud in the deathly silence. Finally the imposing door squeaked open and I was shoved into the centre of a large whitewashed room that had a naked light bulb dangling from the ceiling on a cord. A sudden breeze swayed the light causing our shadows to dance eerily about the room as ripples of terror ran up and down my spine. Anchored to the far wall I saw a mass of metal tubing contoured to embrace a human form and, affixed to it, shackles and restraining straps. Hanging from pegs on the left wall were three leather straps with wooden handles, so thick and coarse as to barely sag. Each one was perforated with hundreds of tiny holes designed to trap and rip the flesh from the buttocks.

The cuffs were removed and the gravelly voice of Marble Mouth ordered me to 'Step right into it, boy.'

Shivering, I did as I was told.

'Now drop your pants ... all the way down!'

My shirt was pulled over my head and so was a black hood. My ankles were firmly shackled as were my knees. A wide metal band encircled my waist and was locked into place to protect my kidneys. My arms were pulled straight out ahead of me and cuffed. Naked from head to foot -- securely anchored in an upright position -- I was totally at their mercy.

Everything was in readiness. The doctor stood on my right monitoring my pulse throughout the ordeal. A guard stood on my left gripping the wooden handle of the strap waiting for the signal to begin. I was cold and terrified and shivering and trying to brace myself for the blow.

The eerie ritual began when the dozen witnesses ominously scraped the soles of their shoes on the floor in unison, deliberately done to confuse my sense of direction.
'ONE!' I clenched my teeth and my body went rigid as the strap sliced through the air, 'CRACK!' Like a pistol shot, it made solid contact with my buttocks, my head snapped backwards, while violently driving my shackled body forward. White searing pain exploded throughout my being and blood gushed from my lips as I struggled to stifle a scream. It was brutal and it was horrible. My whole body vibrated like a band of tempered steel and my mind filled with nightmares as I awaited the next blow.

'Two!' swish, crack! 'Three!' swish, crack! 'Four!' swish, crack! 'Five!' swish-crack!

Over and over again I heard the scraping of the shoes, the sharp command, the long seconds, the strap cutting through the air, the explosion and then the crazy-out-of-this-world pain that struck terror into my very soul. Finally it was all over. Ten strokes of the paddle and I didn't scream or beg as so many did. That was very, very important to me.

When they pulled the hood from my head I stared at them with blood dripping down the corners of my mouth, angry and yet proud, asking myself how they would have fared in my place. They just stood there in their gestapo like uniforms talking among themselves and not looking at me. The Croaker squirted white foamy stuff inside my mouth to stop the bleeding and then rubbed salve on my mutilated buttocks as the blood trickled down my legs.

Coincidentally, as I emerged on the main floor of the tower flanked by two guards I was advised that the Provincial Parole Board had been patiently waiting to interview me -- that my eligibility date was on this very day. Painfully, I limped into a magnificently designed room, decorated with elegant ornaments and artistically-designed fireplace just like a Governor's mansion. (I saw that room once. It was the Superintendent's office) Seated around a curved, black mahogany table were five well-dressed men and one elderly lady.

When I walked out half an hour later I was in excruciating pain, because the numbness had worn off. I guess the parole board members understood my silence, because my mouth was full of bloody cotton. The lady had told me that Sergeant Tracy had dropped in to speak on my behalf, also informing them that I had actually done nothing wrong. The chairman seemed to think otherwise.

He said, 'The fact that you reacted in the way you did indicates, at least to me, that you are harbouring some very dangerous hostilities. All of which is not healthy to yourself or to society in general. It does not indicate rehabilitation on your part. Nevertheless we are going to defer judgment for ten days. Perhaps corporal punishment will have been a rewarding lesson to you after all.'

Lying on my belly much later that evening I thought about what the chairman had said, about that bizarre paddle and rack being a rewarding lesson to me. In my heart I wondered what type of person could feel rewarded through that kind of discipline and retribution. unquote

That is the same question I am asking myself.

Should we submit non-violent offenders to this kind of punishment? Does Peter Moskos really believe that a non-violent offender will be reformed this way? It didn’t reform Roger Caron. He went on to commit more crimes after he was released from the reformatory.

It may deter flogged prisoners for quite a while but long after the pain is gone, the desire to return to the old ways may return. The trouble is that we won’t know for years after the flogging of non violent offenders has been going on if flogging prisoners is a good alternative to imprisonment and will be a good deterrent. Meanwhile, while waiting for the results to appear, we would still be flogging or strapping hundreds of thousands of prisoners in Canada and the United States because they chose to be flogged instead of being sent to prison.

Do the citizens in Canada and the United States really want to their countries to be known as the flogging nations? I hardly think so. We as nations have put that method of treatment behind us and that is where it should remain, permanently.

Let me show you just how preposterous Peter Moskos proposal of using the whip as an alternative to imprisonment really is.

First of all, he has suggested ten lashes as an alternative for every five years of imprisonment. Bernie Madoff has been sentenced to 150 years. This would mean that he could choose to be whipped 300 times. Even hardy sailors who struck superior officers in the British Royal Navy a couple of centuries ago were dead long before that number was reached.

Second. Am I to believe that he is seriously suggesting that young offenders should be flogged. We don’t even approve of them be strapped in school or at home.

Third. Would you really approve of your wife’s choice or that of your daughter to be flogged as an alternative to spending no time in prison?

Fourth. What correctional officers would want to be given the task of taking their turns at whipping fifty or more offenders? How would it effect their minds?

Fifth. Do we really want prisoners who are seventy-years of age or older being flogged as an alternative to serving time in prison.

My proposal for alternatives to imprisonment in prisons for non-violent offenders

The length of time in custody, fine and probation in each of these proposals would be determined by the seriousness of the offence committed.

1. A fine and/or restitution

2. Probation with community service orders

The community service would have to be voluntary and could include emptying bed pans in hospitals etc, shoveling snow from public sidewalks, picking up trash from the sides of highways and scooping dog poop from parks and so forth.

3. Conditional sentences

The offender would spend all his time at home other than when he is permitted to shop once a week for three hours, attend church services once a week for two hours, see a doctor if necessary and if permitted, go to school or work but be home by 5:00 in the afternoons.

4. Imprisonment on weekends

Report to the nearest detention centre at six in the evening on Friday and remain there until seven in the morning on Monday

5. Serve time in a halfway house

This would be available to offenders who are employed or who are looking for employment.

6. Sentence to hard labour in prison for a short period of time

This would apply to offenders who have committed serious non-violent crimes or the violence they used was not too serious.

I am forced to wonder why, Peter Moskos who is a criminologist would even suggest that non-violent offenders should be flogged. What is his real reason to write a book in which the premise of the book is to justify flogging criminals as an alternative to them going to prison?

I suppose if you publish such a book, you will get known and your book will be published and you will be invited to appear on television as a guest. It will even get you noticed as a criminologist.

Since 1975, I have addressed United Nations crime conferences around the world and given 25 speeches in them, not to mention other speeches I have given on behalf of international organizations around the world.

Even though I am a criminologist, I wouldn’t ever put my reputation at risk by proposing that offenders choose between being flogged and going to prison or making some other similar ludicrous suggestion.

I try to make proposals that make sense. Here are some of the more notable ones I proposed. In 1975 while at the UN headquarters in Geneva, I proposed conditional sentences. I also proposed that security guards be trained. In 1980 while speaking in Caracas, I proposed a bill of rights for young offenders. While attending a Canadian conference in 1972, I proposed that innocent persons sent to prison be compensated and at another conference, I proposed 24-hour duty counsel so that anyone arrested day or night will have access to a legal aid lawyer no matter what time of the day or night it is. At the First World Prison Health Conference, I proposed that there be no further insertion of fingers up prisoner’s anuses looking for drugs and that instead, the prisoners suspected of having swallowed a cache of drugs be put in a cell with a toilet that cannot be flushed by the prisoner.

All of these proposals of mine were eventually brought into fruition.

Considering the fact that many police officers are brutes who abuse offenders and innocent people alike, I am thinking that only a police officer would make such an outrageous proposal. This is not to say that Peter Moskos was a brute who abused offenders when he served as a police officer. However, having been a police officer in the past makes his proposal appear as if it is the kind of proposal that only police officers could come up with.

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