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Corporal Punishment - Normative Arguments

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Corporal punishment satisfies demands for reprisal and is seen as a just penalty for certain kinds of offenses. Both sentiments are resurgent among the public in countries in which such punishment has been abolished. Apparent or real increases in crime, particularly violent offenses, spark public demands for the restoration of corporal punishment. A 1960 poll in England revealed that 74 percent of the population thought it an appropriate penalty for some crimes. The idea that corporal punishment is particularly fitting for certain offenses—for example, those involving personal violence—is ultimately a moral or political judgment that reflects the retributive theory of punishment. Various modern expressions of human rights policy, however, condemn corporal punishment. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights declares that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" (Council of Europe, p. 25), and in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights found corporal punishment to be "degrading" under the terms of this article (Tyrer v. United Kingdom, 2 Eur. Human Rights R. 1, 58 I.L.R. 339 (Eur. Ct. Human Rights 1978)). Moreover, the United Nations' "Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners" specifically states that "corporal punishment . . . shall be completely prohibited as punishment for disciplinary offenses" (United Nations Secretariat, Rule 31, p. 69).

In the mid-1990s, several proponents of corporal punishment asserted an "economic" approach: that technology could enable the use of more effective forms of corporal punishment designed to provide temporary and specific physical incapacitation rather than imprisonment, which "over-incapacitates." Others have argued in favor of reintroduction of corporal punishment as a solution to overcrowding and the negative effects of long-term imprisonment.

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