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Debate: Corporal punishment of adults

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Is physical force a justifiable method of punishing criminals?

Background and context

This debate shares something with Corporal Punishment (for Children), namely whether the infliction of physical pain can ever be justifiable. Countries (such as Nigeria, Malaysia, Brunei, Saudi Arabia or Singapore) have retained flogging or whipping as a punishment long after other countries have declared it a violation of human rights; in more severe examples, fundamentalist Islamic countries have seen dismemberment used as a sentence. On the other hand, in many countries where such beatings is outlawed (e.g. the UK or Australia), a perceived lack of success in crime reduction has resulted in a significant support for its reintroduction.[1]

Contents

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Due punishment: Can corporal punishment be warranted and due to a criminal?

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Yes

Criminals must be punished, and any form of punishment recognizes the fact that on committing criminal acts they surrender some of their rights as humans. Why, logically, is corporal punishment any more of an infringement of these rights than prison? Corporal punishment is an easy, strong, visible, and therefore effective deterrent as well as a proportionate punishment for certain crimes.[2]

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No

Punishing with pain is barbarian., a throwback to societies built on military might, slavery and the treatment of criminals as humans without any rights. The mark of civilised society is that it behaves better than its criminals. Prison is necessary as a method of punishment, prevention and rehabilitation, but it does not (or at least should not) stoop to cruelty; which is why the UN Declaration of Human Rights forbids "torture or... cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".[3]

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Regulation: Can corporal punishment be appropriately regulated?

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Yes

Like all forms of punishment, flogging and whipping can and should be subject to regulation. In Singapore, for example, caning is confined generally to young males between 16 and 50, with a maximum number of 24 strokes which must be administered all at once.[4]

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No

Any regulation tends to be arbitrary and allow abuse. Singapore’s list of crimes for which caning may be sentenced includes the transport of fireworks or a third road traffic offence. In 1995 a 48 year-old Frenchman was caned 5 times for overstaying his visa. No countries with corporal punishment have demonstrated a responsibility that is acceptable to human rights watchdogs.[5]

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Deterrence: Can corporal punishment be an effective deterrent?

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Yes

Corporal punishment helps deter crime. There is very little crime in Singapore by comparison with the USA; let the results of their justice system speak for themselves.[6]

Corporal punishment is a useful deterrent against prisoners breaking prison rules. Since their freedom is already gone and their date of release may seem distant (or non-existent), there is very little else with which to maintain order.[7]

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No

There are always alternative punishments that can be used in prison. solitary confinement, the removal of privileges, extension of sentence and so on. Mistreatment of prisoners is particularly open to excessive abuse from prison supervisors who seek to maintain order through a climate of fear.[8]

Societies with a collective mentality need less strict punishment laws than societies without; the USA doesn’t have more crime than Singapore because of the lack of corporal punishment but precisely because of the lack of a behavioural norm. When the USA or UK allowed corporal punishment in the past, there was still plenty of crime.[9]

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Cultural relativity: Can corporal punishment be upheld as a acceptable in certain culture?

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Yes

Corporal punishment is appropriate for some cultures, but not for others. Citizens of Western democracies such as the USA find a great deal of state control and authority frightening, and hold very diverse views on acceptable behavior and appropriate punishment. In many Middle and Far Eastern countries, however, there is a much greater consensus on what is acceptable – and harsher collective response towards those who breach it.[10]

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No

See also

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