Ted Litschauer Jr.

7 March 2002 Social Solutions

Corporal Punishment & Crime:

America and the Singapore Solution

Corporal punishment, as defined by Encyclopedia.com, “refers to some manner of physical punishment inflicted by judicial order on the body of an offender.  The term generally refers to flogging, branding, or mutilation as the punishment for the crime. Historically, corporal punishment has been practiced since ancient times.”

            Not only has corporal punishment been practiced since ancient times, in many countries corporal punishment is practiced even today. In Singapore corporal punishment is used as a crime deterrent. Research from the Los Angeles Times article, “Singapore Justice System Gives U.S. Examples for Thought”, “looked at the small city-state of Singapore (where corporal punishment is legal) and Los Angeles (in the U.S. where it is not), with their roughly equal population of 3.5 million and found a striking crime differences.  In 1993, 58 murders, 80 rapes, 1,008 robberies and approx. 3,100 car thefts were reported in Singapore. Los Angeles Police Department statistics for the same time period showed 1,100 homicides, 1,855 rapes, 39,227 robberies and approx. 66,000 car thefts.” We as Americans should take a lesson from Singapore and enact new legislation instituting a new form of justice that is, corporal punishment.        

In chapter 13 of Graeme Newman’s book, Just and Painful: A Case for Corporal Punishment of Criminals, he talks of a classical experiment of corporal punishment on animals and humans. In the experiment a rat is dropped inside a cage where it finds food at the end of the runway.  Suddenly the rat drops the food and squeals. The experimenter has electrified the grid and given the rat quite a shock. The shock wears off and the rat sits apprehensively in the corner. Soon more food is dropped in and the experiment is repeated five times. At about the fifth “trial” the rat runs toward the food, but withdraws as soon as it gets near. After a few times, the rat runs no longer towards the food.  It was concluded that acute punishment eliminated the temptation to eat food. Corporal punishment on criminals, in theory, works much same way. 

Opponents to corporal punishment argue that victims are prone to anger after being punished. According to Dr. Bill Maurer and James S. Wallerstein, in their book The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime, “adrenalin output increases sharply during fear, anger, and physical punishment.  When this is prolonged or often repeated, the endocrine fails to return to baseline.  The victim of punishment becomes angered and prone to poor impulse and spontaneous violent outbursts.”  In Maurer’s and Wallerstein’s book they quote a Dr. Ralph Welsh as saying, “As the severity of corporal punishment . . . increases, so does the probability he (the charged) will engage in a violent act.” This evidence is refutable, though. According to K. Neil of New Zealand, in his defense of corporal punishment from personal experience, “Caning of the backside as retribution gave (and gives) special satisfaction to those offended by youthful misbehavior. Canings also satisfied those who wished to atone for their misbehavior and assuage a master's or societies just anger.  Rather than facing a lion, or stealing a car, a boy could test himself by facing the cane. Many did and they benefited from it.” Corporal punishment therefore benefits the offender rather then harms.

According to Donna Leinwand in her article Murder in the 90’s, “Lawmakers (believing prisons works as a solution to crime) called for a ‘war on crime’ and passed measures that included tougher sentencing and more prison construction. The 1994 crime bill signed into law by President Clinton contained roughly $8 billion in prison grants to states.”  It is my belief prisons are not only a waste of money but are not the right deterrent. Graeme Newman, a Professor and Associate Dean School of Criminal Justice at Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, not only supports corporal punishment, he also believes prison deterrence is bad as well. “Nearly 400,000 Americans are doing time behind bars: a prison population larger than that of any other country except South Africa and the Soviet Union” (Newman).  Is it worth the billions of dollars it costs every year to keep criminals in expensive prisons?    “No,” says Graeme Newman. “Sending most criminals to prison is not only a waste of money. It's also the wrong kind of punishment.”  Graeme Newman points out two reasons why “prison is a bad deterrent.”  The first reason is that chronic pain is not as efficient as acute pain.  In real criminal punishment, acute pain is far from the case. The punishment is drawn out over long prison terms. The second reason being, time works against prisons (lessening the effectiveness). The scientists of punishment know what makes punishment most effective: it must be immediate and swift (Newman). 

Opponents to corporal punishment point out that there is not enough support for such legislation. They site that during Michael Fay’s (an American punished in Singapore for vandalism) hearing of the early 90’s, the majority of those polled did not support his punishment. In a Newsweek poll from the article Crime and Punishment, by Michael Elliot, only 38 percent of Americans supported Michael’s canning, while 52 percent did not.  Other evidence shows strongly America’s support of corporal punishment.  “There was a wave of American support of Singapore and its harsh legal system – reinforcing opinion polls in the United States showed that worry about crime equaled that of the economy” (“Singapore Gives).  A radio talk show host, Michael Harrison, reported at that time that 90% of his callers wanted to see “Michael Fay striped” (Elliot).  In an article titled “Justice in Six Lashes,” Melissa Roberts reports of a man saying, “Punish Hooligans and enjoy the benefits of a clean society.”  Roberts’ continues that, even Fay’s Ohio hometown newspaper, The Dayton Daily News, ran mail against him.

            According to a 1996 article, United States – Crime, printed in Canada and the World Background, “The United States is the world’s most violent industrial nation despite being one of the few that clings to the death penalty and has a jail population that is, proportionately, five times greater then that of its peers.”  The U.S. is one of the most dangerous places in the world. At seven deaths per 100,000 people, the United States compared to countries such as Israel (2.2), Canada (1.7), and Japan (less then one), looks downright barbaric (Leinwand).  “Though America remains a violent place, there should be a consensus that corporal punishment is uncivilized” (Elliot). But in all actuality, “Americans [are] weary of crime and [are] increasingly favoring stiffer penalties for criminals, such as the ‘three strikes’ rule, which was recently adopted to punish repeat offenders in several U.S. states” (Singapore Gives).  Support for corporal punishment is not just coming from the mainstream.  According to an article in the Weekly Standard, written by Andrew Thomas, a survey was conducted and there was “overwhelming support in the black community for corporal punishment, over 83%.”

            Corporal punishment will always be a stirring debate. Facts show that America has a difficult problem with crime and we are spending into the billions on new prisons. Incidentally these prisons are just used to lock offenders away, no real solution is offered. Professor Graeme Newman shows us how prisons are not good deterrence. “We do not seek to 'cure' the criminal, but rather to have him atone for his crime."  Critics state that corporal punishment is close to torture. On the other hand there is overwhelming American support. It is surprising and relevant to remember that the whole country of Singapore has only 5 percent as many homicides as Los Angeles alone has.  I believe it is a good idea for American to consider corporal punishment as a form of deterrence to reduce overall crime, because a permanent solution for crime will most likely never be reached. One can clearly see that America supports new, harsher punishments for crimes, and support is key to enacting new legislation.

Works Cited

“Corporal Punishment.” Encyclopedia.com. Electronic Library. 2000.

21 Feb. 2002  http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/42026.html.

Elliot, Michael. “Crime and Punishment.” Newsweek 18 April 1994. 18-22.

SIRS Knowledge Source.  State Fair Community College Library, Sedalia, MO.  19 Feb. 2002 http://www.sks.sirs.com.

Leinwand, Donna. “Murder in the 90’s.” Garnett News Service 10 Nov. 1999.

SIRS Knowledge Source.  State Fair Community College Library, Sedalia, MO. 19 Feb. 2002 http://www.sks.sirs.com.

Mauer, Bill, and James S. Wallerstein. “The Influence of Corporal Punishment

on Crime.” Project No Spank Website. 1987. 7 Mar. 2002 http://silcon.com/~ptave/maurer1.htm.

Neil, K. “The High School Cane: An Eulogy.” World Corporal Punishment

Research. April 2000.  7 Mar. 2002  http://www.corpun.com/eulogy.htm.

Newman, Graeme. “Just and Painful: A Case for Corporal Punishment of Criminals.”

University at Albany Website. 7 Mar. 2002 http://www.Albany.edu/~grn92/jp00.html.

Roberts, Melissa. “Justice in Six Lashes.”  Newsweek 11 April 1994: 40.  

MasterFile Elite. State Fair Community College Library, Sedalia, MO.

7 March 2002  http://www.ebscohost.com.

“Singapore Gives U.S. Examples of Thought.” LA Times 3 April 1994.

SIRS Knowledge Source.  State Fair Community College Library, Sedalia, MO.  19 Feb. 2002  http://www.sks.sirs.com.

Thomas, Andrew Peyton. “Spanking the Anti-Spankers.” Weekly Standard 18

April 1994. 12-24. SIRS Knowledge Source.  State Fair Community College Library, Sedalia, MO.  19 Feb. 2002  http://www.sks.sirs.com.

“United States and Crime.” Canada and the World Background.  Sept. 1996: 20-22.

SIRS Knowledge Source.   State Fair Community College Library, Sedalia, MO.  19 Feb. 2002 http://www.sks.sirs.com.