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Why Judicial Corporal Punishment Is Better Than Incarceration
By John Dewar Gleissner, Esq
Published: 04/04/2011

Cato9tails Today, we naturally think of incarceration as more modern and advanced than judicial corporal punishment, but it's not true incarceration is always better. The facts clearly show prison does not rehabilitate or deter much crime and merely keeps criminals out of circulation while they are in prison. While the execution of judicial corporal punishment is horrendous and usually bloody, the effects of incarceration are worse. Prison takes offenders away from their families, marriages, jobs, friends, communities and churches and puts them in an extremely bad moral environment for years at a time. Incarceration does not provide the benefit of example, because it is hidden behind prison walls. In prison, convicts learn crime skills, join or re-join gangs, fight, go crazy or get depressed, suffer in solitary confinement, and adopt sick prison values and ways. Most of the time, prisoners do not learn the job and life skills they need to succeed on the outside. After their release, well over half wind up right back in prison.

All slave systems in history whipped slaves, which proves effectiveness. Stable nations using judicial corporal punishment today enjoy significantly lower crime rates than countries that do not. Historically, corporal punishment is abolished only because it is an unpopular reminder of lower social status. For example, as St. Paul reminded a Roman soldier, Roman citizens could not be flogged. In most Western countries, it was curtailed or abolished soon after political equality of citizens was achieved: In France after the French Revolution, in Germany after the revolution of 1848, in the United States after the American Revolution and then more completely after the American Civil War. After Great Britain abolished it, her crime rates increased markedly.

Ex-slaves interviewed as part of the Federal Writers' Project from 1936 to 1938 confirmed the effectiveness of corporal punishment, especially to discipline young males. Some ex-slaves said corporal punishment taught them valuable lessons. Female ex-slaves in particular observed that it was needed and effective. While we often associate flogging with slavery in the United States, it was used effectively by General George Washington to discipline his mainly white troops. The Continental Congress initially authorized Washington to apply no more than 40 lashes, but in 1776, Washington sought and obtained authority from Congress to impose 100 lashes. Shortly before the battle of Yorktown, Washington sought authority to impose 500 lashes. Thomas Jefferson provided for "stripes" in a statute he drew for Virginia. In its early years, the United States did without large-scale penitentiaries.

When executed in public, corporal punishment provides a much better example than prison time. It deters crime effectively. Intense pain fills the offender with a desire to avoid pain in the future. The boredom of prison does not impart the same message. Physical punishment provides offenders with an immediate opportunity to change their behavior and join law-abiding society. Before incarcerated convicts can reform, they must first endure a clean version of hell that discourages their improvement and fails to impart the skills they will need when released.

Judicial corporal punishment is far less expensive and time-consuming than incarceration. Incarceration saddles taxpayers with expenses for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, security, personnel costs, building expenses and other burdens. America's 2.3 million inmates are essentially a huge mass of full-ride welfare recipients. Incarceration removes people from the productive economy, cages them, and prevents most of them from working productively or efficiently in the private sector. Prison industries are state businesses and usually only make products for use by the state. There are not nearly enough prison jobs to go around.

Flogging does not preclude incarceration. Like prison time, it can be held over the parolee's or probationer's head. But corporal punishment is faster and more flexible. Several doses of flogging might be administered in the time it takes to serve a one-year prison sentence. Some offenders will want to "get it over with" and plead guilty, accepting responsibility sooner.

Judicial corporal punishment will not break up families, marriages, communities and careers like incarceration does, nor will it increase welfare costs as much as mass incarceration.

Our society abhors the thought of flogging. Rarely portrayed as a valuable punishment, it is often confused with more arbitrary parental corporal punishment. But the more people learn about modern mass incarceration in the United States, the less they will object to judicial corporal punishment. Studies applicable to often-arbitrary and abusive parental corporal punishment do not apply to the rational use of judicial corporal punishment. We do not have scientific studies concerning judicial corporal punishment. All we have is history... and increasing knowledge of the social disaster caused by modern mass incarceration.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author John Dewar Gleissner, Esq. graduated from Auburn University (B.A. with Honor, 1973) and Vanderbilt University School of Law (1977), where he won the Editor's Award and participated in the Men's Penitentiary Project. In addition to practicing law in Alabama for the last 33 years, Mr. Gleissner is the author of the new book "Prison and Slavery - A Surprising Comparison"
Reprinted with permission from ezinearticles.com.

Other articles by Gleissner:


  1. hamiltonlindley on 04/10/2020:

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  2. Gb on 01/30/2020:

    A number of people have made a correlation between judicial corporal punishment and fetish kink flogging and I just want to say a few things.. kink/fetish flogging is nothing like what would be administered in a judicial setting. For one it is done at the consent of the whoever is being whipped and if the pain ever gets too much for them it stops. Often skin is not broken. Secondly the kink is to act out a fantasy. It's not real and the people involved know it's not real and is for fun. There is no carry over to actually torturing someone or exacting punishment nor does the "sadist" often get off on causing people pain. The ones I have met actually do it because they like how much their partner enjoys it and because of a power dynamic. It's offensive to lump them together with judicial punishment because you are insinuating these people just like causing others pain and have no morals on how they do it. Please think about it and if you still don't understand reach out to talk to these people as I have and get to know them better. I think this is an interesting debate and I like how it really draws attention to issues with our current system, though I would like it if prison reform was possible without reintroducing corporal punishment I think it's a better alternative to incarceration.

  3. Amy on 08/21/2019:

    You make some excellent points, and I agree with what you are proposing here, simply because in a lot of cases, it would be much better than incarceration. I think that it would not be easy to convince the American public to adopt such a plan. Any politician who introduced this as a viable option would be scorned and mocked by their political rivals, and the press would almost certainly make a circus out of it. Still, it deserves a chance. Folks who say it is cruel and barbaric have not witnessed the effect of prison life on an individual and on those who care about them. Incarceration has simply become a convenient way for society to hide from a situation they don't want to deal with. I think the best chance for this, is to be offered first, as an option to incarceration. A lot of questions would have to be addressed too, such as the specifics of how this would be implemented. Sorry to rattle on... but this is most interesting. Amy

  4. jjjjj on 09/14/2018:

    should be for males 15 to 40

  5. jjjjj on 09/14/2018:

    less people in jail and would save jobs.

  6. jjjjj on 09/14/2018:

    I hope this gets voted in one day, i absultly agree with the A prison strap on the bare buttocks, if i broke the law this should defintly happen, And should be a option for small violations, and traffic tickes.

  7. Dess on 05/05/2015:

    Robert-Peratik If CP did become a punishment the government used, it should be used on both women and men, if it weren't it would be considered sexist. Heterosexual men can also have whipping kinks. It's possible for anyone of any gender and sexual orientation to have a whipping kink. Having women whip men rather than men whip men would not prevent this. Also, criminals shouldn't have to get naked to receive CP. This puts them at risk of getting sexually assaulted. I don't think CP would stop crime. Pain is only temporary and many criminals are from rough neighborhoods where they may have gotten into fights, been abused, etc. They've experienced pain and it's not a big deal to them. Also, I think criminals might seek revenge on whoever punished them. kind of like how lots of people dislike highway patrol because they give them tickets, even though it's their fault for breaking the law. Plus people get beaten in jail all the time. They get beaten, sexually assaulted, yelled at, eat gross food, get humiliated and taken advantage of, and more... yet prisons aren't effective. Whether they're getting beaten by government officials or prisoners doesn't make a difference except people will resent the government and the government will be participating in something barbaric and unconstitutional. Either way, it's cruel and barbaric. Do prisons work? Not really and we definitely need to change SOMETHING but CP isn't what we should resort to. P.S. I completely agree with Seattledad

  8. Robert-Peratik on 07/30/2014:

    ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Citing CP use in slavery is offensive & most definitely "apples & oranges". CP in slavery was brutal & left scars. Slaves were second-class citizens & pets, & whippings were meant to enforce that & keep you in your place. In regards to my comment of having the option of a woman administering to a man, I don't know if Mr. Gleissner broached that in his book. You need to carefully think this through before "knee-jerking" a protest. You have a clear sexist issue if this is refused. Also, a man flogging a man is a known homosexual "kink", & you have no way of 100% guarding against that with a heterosexual inmate. Women are going to ask "why can't we?". You DON'T want the following: A male inmate is sentenced to CP. He requests a woman administer, & is refused. Why? To show who's boss around here? That's the way it is, Jack? A man whips him, he retaliates, & is killed in a shootout. You want that nightmare, guys? Didn't think that through, did you? The investigation reveals that he requested a woman...Do I need to go any further?

  9. Robert-Peratik on 07/29/2014:

    What I believe (& I know the article didn't go there) I fully believe in judicial CP, but only women to men. Essentially, the old-fashioned 1930's-1940's reformatories. A man should have a choice of a woman administering, & there's no argument on this. A man to man is wrong. There could be a homosexual motive & they get into the "you're not right" or "Wyatt Earp" guy crap. With women, it's right. Essentially, naked, brought before women, restrained to a bench, & administered severe paddlings, strappings, & canings. I don't believe that women should receive judicial CP. It's usually woman to woman, & almost always turns into "breaking" her rather than punishing her. It is also an offensive practice to submissive males.

  10. James on 10/22/2013:

    I believe C.P. should be re-instated especially for younger male offenders. There has been a recent study done in Sweeden showing a marked increase in crime in the decades since they abolished C.P. in schools reformatories, jails. I noticed some have mentioned it could be an option and I do not think that is the way it should be done. I do agree there should be strict controls. Length of strap, how the individual is held down maximum given at any one time. I also believe there should be at least two different occassions that one is punished that way when they go in the next time they know what they are in for. When I was a kid the strap was given in jails and I heard more than one say that waiting to go in for your punishement was pure agony. I also believe it should be public to stop the bravado that I took it without crying out etc. Could even go as far as to video tape the session and have it posted under the corrections website. And for those that think that C.P. is barbaric just consider that most if not all younger inmates that are sentenced end up getting assaulted both physically and sexually while they are in jail. So what is more barbaric sentencing a young lad to be repeatedly sodomized on a daily basis and put at risk of AIDS or giving them a couple of good doses of the strap?

  11. Owen on 01/29/2013:

    For the last four years I have been corresponding with a young woman named Sandy, who is currently incarcerated at the VSPW in Chowchilla. She was just 19 years old when we began writing to eachother, she is now 23. Sandy's original release date was to have been in 2016, but due to a series of disciplinary infractions she won't be comming out until at least 2020! This girl was jailed as a teenager, and will not see the streets until she is in her 30's! I think that Sandy should have been given the alternative of corporal punishment instead of the automatic extension of her sentence. I understand that in the mid-20th century, female convicts were often paddled on their bare buttocks for breaches in prison discipline. It must have very painful and humiliating for them, but I'm quite sure that these women would rather have been subjected to such spankings than have extra months or years added to their sentence. I think that this is a very interesting and well-reached essay, and it should provoke much debate.

  12. aricha on 01/11/2013:

    i beiegve we should have a flogging law in the united states. this will be a perfect punnishement for sex offenders,cild molestors, animal cruelty,being a welfare cheat who takes advantage of vulerable single parents financailly after they loose their benefits,child abuse,domestic violence, dodging the child support system and working for cash under the table, geting wome pregnant and leave them,and drunk driving. We have a death row for murderers, but here should be a section in he jail sstem where criminals go to jail to get flogged. there is some methods of flogging , the malasyia where the criminal is being tied against a post iwh their pants poullsed down and whipped on her bare butt with a west stick. anoher one anybody abusing a child, aniamal, ederly or disabled person need to be whipped in public

  13. Kitkat on 12/09/2012:

    I definitely agree with any type of corporal punishment, because I think that it's the best solution that we have and I'm sorry but if you want to act like a baby then you should be treated like one. I think that if we used corporal punishment more then there would be a lot less crimes. I think that prisons and jails are more barbaric than corporal punishment because they seperate families and then the families dont even get the money that the prisoner normally brings home. Honestly I dont think that it should even be optional, but mandatory and I don't think that there should be a limit to how many lashes that some one gets. I also think that whoever wants to watch should be allowed to because that would humiliate the person even more and make them less likely to do it again. I think that they should be administered on a bare butt too. The number should determine on the crime and how many times the person has committed a crime and there should be a minimal amount because that would leave a question on how many you would actually get.

  14. Jimbar on 11/23/2012:

    I believe that a form of corporal punishment in lieu f incarceration would be a good alternative to incarceration for young people between young males 15to 25,who are either first timer or have committed non violent crimes This corporal punishment would be issued directly after being convictedAs to what the punishment was to be there would need to beba general norm for this.I would recommend a instrument of a strap paddle.It would be given on the Hide and it should done on the Bare bottom and this wouldn't be open to discussion Depending upon what the offense was would decide the exact circumstances however all punishment would have to take place in private with at least One witness present the person issuing the punishment would need to be skilled in what he was to do .Safe. Guards would need to in place so there wouldn't be any risk that a injury could occur.In some situations they could be a need for more than one session.of punishment given this would depend on individual situations but would be part of the Norm so it wouldn't be exception The standard for this punishment would need to be followed without exception In most cases if medical personnel was available they should be available to assist if necessaryThis procedure would be strictly voluntary and the person getting punished would understand and totally agree and cooperate with the said punishment The explanation of the punishment would be explained fully verbally and in writing as means of procedure so that there wouldn't be any misunderstanding .The Target area for the punishment would be the Hide without question The reasoning behind this would be 1) to keep someone from Incarceration 2) A learning experience you can't break the law and get away with it Jim Burke 11/23/12

  15. rmcatalina on 11/20/2012:

    I'm always amazed the public doesn't view locking someone in a cage the size of closet for 23 hours a day as "cruel and unusual." Our society no longer approves of zoos with cages like our prisons have. For my money, I think corporal punishment is something worth considering as an alternative to incarceration for many crimes. And I have no problem making it voluntary. So let me ask you, if you were given the option of 30 days in jail or 100 straps with a prison strap, which would you choose? Nine out of 10 would choose the strap and the one out of ten would beg for the strap after just week of being locked in cage for hours on end. Yes it is true that today's prisons do provide work experience and group recreation. Prisoners are not necessarily locked in a cage 23 hours a day. But having visited a few jails over the years (as a journalist, not a prisoner) I get claustrophobic just walking into a cell -- with the door still open! Here in the US we incarcerate more people than any other country. Much of this is due to what I call “nonsense crimes” like illegal drug possession and prostitution. And many crimes that just get a slap on the wrist deserve 100 straps on the bare butt with a belt in front of a "jury" of spectators. Graffiti artists, for example. I don't agree with the author that corporal punishment has to be bloody or disfiguring. A prison strap on the bare buttocks, administered by a professional would be memorably painful to the convict, with minimal damage. If the punishment needs to be administered in several sessions, that's fine too. That's still preferable to a long jail sentence. Anyone who is imprisoned more than a year will be screwed up for life and, usually, be right back in jail. So who benefits? Is corporal punishment barbaric? Probably. But so is putting someone in a little cage. Most people who were given a reasonable dose of corporal punishment as a child are probably better off from the experience. Certainly grounding a child for weeks at a time benefits no one and probably raises resentment the longer it goes on. Confinement may seem less violent, but it amounts to nothing more than prolonged mental torture. Are there dangerous and violent criminals that need to be locked up? Of course. There are social misfits that, by design or choice, will always have to be warehoused outside of "normal" society, but with our jails bursting at the seams and constant pressure to build more and more of them, it may be time to look at some alternatives.

  16. ronaldo on 06/20/2012:

    The form of corporal punishmentcan be an alternative in some instaces let the judge does not have to be a whip but maybe a wooden paddle by someone who is trained in this field even a strap on a fully clothed buttocks

  17. Seattledad on 04/19/2011:

    What next, flogging school children? Flogging speeders and jaywalkers? open this pandorra's box, and you are asking for more brutality than ever. Take one look at countries that allow CP and flogging..look at the brutality in the middle east, even in the so-called modern society countries like Singapore..who love to CLAIM CP is a deterent..yet, the offer not one shred of evidence, no study, no research, that shows either it works or it is a deterrent. Jails are, as they are, the most effective deterrent we have. What we DO need is to make sure criminals pay the price and receive sentences that reflect the crime itself. Sorry, prznboss, it would NOT be cheaper. Peoople thought that capital punishment would be a deterrent..it has not been such..people thought execution would be quick and cheap..and it certainly is not. This author makes an interesting point, but I think our country has moved beyond barbarism.

  18. LadyArkin on 04/07/2011:

    Finally a topic worth discussing!!!! No matter what happens I think that we will always have prisons, in one form or another. I don't think that as a society or species we will ever get away from this fact. As a crime deterrent I think that corporal punishment would deter a significant percentage of the younger, repeat offenders that clog up our system. If our society could steer those 'lesser' crimes in another direction, jails and prisons could theoretically free up a significant amount of capital to deal with 'hard' criminals. Unfortunately, Jail has become the place where the very young come to live, hang out, and see friends. They aren't afraid of the system. There is no respect of the system or anyone in it. They know that 'nothing' will happen to them. Like a child without respect for his or her parents, they do as they please and can get away with it. Why not? Everyone else they know is inside. Jail is just another stop along the way. The system is broken. It doesn't work. We can't afford to actually help anyone. I hate to say it, but it's true. I'm an over glorified babysitter. Something radical must happen in order for change to happen. I have had conversations with elderly inmates who can't afford to live on the outside. It's cheaper to come to jail for their meds, surgery, cancer treatment, and dental issues. $5.00 a doctor's visit; you can't beat that deal. Why deal with co-pays when the tax payer can pick up the cost.

  19. prznboss on 04/06/2011:

    I think it's a great idea. Sure would be cheaper!

  20. blwpyrtv on 04/04/2011:

    Interesting essay. Do you think flogging is the best method of inflicting pain?

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