Saturday, April 14, 2007

An Alternative View to Rehabilitation

Until now these articles and essays have been original but recently I came into possession of an unpublished paper regarding Corporal Punishment, that I found very provocative and which forms the basis for these comments.

Although crime in the United States has shown an overall decline of 4.4% the reality is that there is a large criminal element in the US and our prisons are bursting at the seams. While crime has declined in virtually every category, drug abuse, prostitution, and disorderly conduct have shown increases with drug abuse increasing 24% between 1995 and 2005, with much of this increase attributed to the young. The obvious conclusion is that the youth of America are increasingly unruly and undisciplined. The argument has been made that much of this increase in criminal behavior is due to the declining use of “spanking” or other mild forms of corporal punishment, especially in the schools. Teachers today are virtually powerless to provide any discipline to an unruly student. One school in Memphis, Tennessee banned corporal punishment, and found it had adverse effect, specifically[1]:

1.The students know they can’t be paddled so they are more disrespectful than ever
2.The unruliest kids curse at and even threaten to hit their teachers
3.Students taunt their teachers with “What are you going to do? Beat me?
4.Reports of weapons on campus are up 27%
5.Gang related activity is up 9%
6.Threats to school staff up 19%
7.Battery against staff is up 46% system wide and 131% in middle schools.

The use of corporal punishment has been on the decline since the 19th Century and beginning in the 20th Century the focus has increasingly been on ‘rehabilitation” with the idea that felons simply need to be understood and given the education and tools necessary to become productive citizens. The complete failure of this philosophy is not acknowledged even though it is self-evident from the recidivist data.

Prior to World War II spanking was commonplace and virtually all of the men who fought in WW II were spanked as children, but today 67% of the children and grandchildren of those men think spanking or any form of corporal punishment is “child abuse”. The fallacy of this thinking seems to be demonstrated by the statistics cited above and this brings us to the use of corporal punishment as a deterrent. However, in the case of Michael Fay who was caned in Singapore amidst an international diplomatic incident, it appears not to have worked. Since returning to the US he has been injured while sniffing butane, arrested for drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and alcoholism. On the other hand, he was in the US so it cannot be determined if he would have continued his self-destructive and criminal lifestyle had corporal punishment remained a threat.

So the question becomes should corporal punishment be provided for young offenders as an alternative to prison? These are the results from a recent poll:

1. 62% said it should be a mandatory punishment for young offenders administered by a Judge
2. 63% said it should be a mandatory punishment for adult offenders administered by a Judge
3. 40% said the punishment should be done in public and 33% said it should be done in the presence of the victims.
4. If the offender is an adult 54% think it should be done in public and 24% said it should be done in the presence of the victims.
5. 43% of those polled thought it would act as a deterrent and 39% felt it would enhance the effectiveness of the punishment.

However, virtually all of the research on the effectiveness of corporal punishment has been done relative to children and little to none on criminals – young or old. The studies have also been done primarily by psychologists who start with the a priori position that corporal punishment is ineffective and virtually all of the research deals with spanking as opposed to punishment for youthful and young adult offenders where the punishment can be more severe.

Saudi Arabia employs very draconian punishments generally based on Shar’ia (Islamic Law) and these include floggings up to 1000 lashes and beheadings as well as mutilations. While this level of corporal punishment is unacceptable in any civilized society, the reality is that Saudi Arabia has an extremely low crime rate. Malaysia and Singapore are more Westernized but use judicial corporal punishment in the form of canings. In both places the crime rate is very low and much lower than in the US.

Recently two boys (aged 18) who were unemployed, homeless, and hungry, broke into a church looking for food, but they vandalized the church causing in excess of $100,000 in damages. Had these boys faced the possibility of being given 6 to 10 strokes they might have considered other alternatives, especially if these strokes were delivered in public. Shame and humiliation have virtually disappeared from our society and punishments occur so long after the crime that there is little correlation between the two. However, rapid and public humiliation and punishment would tie these together and based on the empirical evidence, it would lower the crime rate for these petty crimes. The objective should be punishment and humiliation because it is clear rehabilitation does not work, no matter what the ACLU and a gaggle of psychologists say.

[1] Cada, Corporal Punishment, 2007

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