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Corporal Punishment


Although corporal punishment has been widely banned, the extent to which it continues to be used is difficult to determine. Countries that strictly observe Islamic law inflict both amputation and whipping as penalties. In South Africa, until the mid-1990s, males under twenty-one years of age could be whipped for any offense in lieu of other punishment, and adult males between the ages of twenty-one and thirty could be whipped either in addition to or instead of other punishment for many offenses, including robbery, rape, aggravated or indecent assault, burglary, and auto theft. In the 1970s an annual average of 335 adults were sentenced to "corporal punishment only." Whipping was used more extensively to chastise juveniles, but official statistics were not kept.

In Great Britain the Cadogan Committee, appointed in 1937 to review the application of corporal punishment, reported that this penalty had been abolished for criminal offenses by adults in every "civilized country" in the world except those whose criminal code was influenced by English criminal law—that is, in some of the British dominions and American states, where it could still be legally imposed for offenses by juveniles and for violations of prison discipline (Cadogan Committee). The committee's recommendation that corporal punishment be abandoned as a judicial penalty in England was adopted in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, 11 & 12 Geo. 6, c. 58 (Great Britain), which abolished the penalty for all offenses except serious violations of prison discipline; in 1967 it was also eliminated for these. The Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders (ACTO) reported in 1961 that corporal punishment had not been reintroduced in any country which had abolished it and that in those few countries which continued to prescribe such penalties various limitations had been introduced, so that infliction had become uncommon (Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders). The last two American states to use corporal punishment as a judicial penalty were Maryland, where it was seldom inflicted before being abolished in 1952, and Delaware, where the last flogging took place in 1952 although formal abolition did not occur until 1972. Corporal punishment remains available, however, as a penalty for serious breaches of prison discipline in a number of states. Milder forms of corporal punishment for students remain a possible penalty in many states.

In 1994, the caning of a young American in Singapore for a property offense drew wide political condemnation from American political leaders, although it also had the effect of temporarily raising public debate over the merits of judicial corporal punishment. As a result of a growing public concern over crime rates, as well as prison overcrowding, public support of corporal punishment for petty criminals and juvenile offenders increased, and bills were introduced in several state legislatures to reintroduce judicial corporal punishment as an alternative to imprisonment. Most efforts failed, however, because of potential constitutional infirmities.

More serious forms of corporal punishment, including flogging and amputation, have undergone a revival in certain Islamic countries that have experienced a resurgence in fundamentalism. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and other organizations have suggested that the prohibition of cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights could be extended by customary law to include corporal punishment. Nevertheless, while some of the practices of some Islamic countries have drawn rebuke and condemnation by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, that body has as recently as 1997 suggested only that certain forms of corporal punishment may be violative of international law, leaving open the question of the extent to which evolving standards or general principles of law will tolerate other forms.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCorporal Punishment - Prevalence, Normative Arguments, Effectiveness, Conclusion, Bibliography