Should We Bring Back Flogging?

  By VennerRoad, 7th Jul 2016

Prison is not working, so how about we try something radically different if ancient, flogging?

Corporal punishment - old and brutal but it works.

The fear of especially violent crime, and the new (manufactured) austerity, are never far from the news, on both sides of the Atlantic. Could flogging those convicted of minor crimes be a better, more successful and even more humane approach to mass incarceration? If that question sounds paradoxical or even silly, consider the following.

In theory, prisons are supposed to provide retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. By taking dangerous individuals off the streets, they also protect society. Those tiny few who are deemed forever dangerous or need to be locked up for prolonged periods are beyond the scope of this dissertation, but what about common or garden criminals, how do these noble aims play out where they are concerned?

Sadly, the answer is very badly. Locking up criminals with other criminals allows them to share not only their experiences but their anti-social talents. Okay, few if any will form lethal partnerships like Bittaker and Norris, but who would argue with the proposition that prisons are as much breeding grounds for crime as preventers of it?

While some people have problems adapting to prison life, for most inmates their real problems begin when they are released. For those who have family support, things may not be so bad, but for those who haven’t, even a short sentence can be the first step in a downward spiral, what has rightly been called a life sentence on the instalment plan. One real example of this will suffice.

In January 2013, Jamie Robery was given a 9 month sentence at Woolwich Crown Court. He was released a couple of months later - probably having spent some time on remand awaiting trial - and on April 12 he was arrested for the theft of a car radio. It remains to be seen why anyone would want to steal a car radio in this day and age, much less who would fence a stolen one. When shortly Robery appeared at a lower court in Bromley, the local press reported that he had a staggering 29 convictions for 42 offences of theft.

No information is available re his family circumstances, but it is not uncommon for those who have homes to lose them after serving even short sentences. Under the current system, men like Robery are condemned to a living death unless they get lucky in one of their criminal enterprises, which will of course come of necessity at the expense of someone else. Added to the general unemployability of the criminal element is stigmatisation, which if it applies to thieves applies in spades to even minor sex offenders. Which brings us to Brock Turner in the US and Adam Johnson in the UK.

It remains to be seen if Turner can be considered a minor sex offender, even if Janice Fiamengo seems to think he is more unlucky than evil. Certainly his unduly lenient sentence and the tactless appeals of his father who portrayed him as a victim have done much to arouse public anger, in spite of the contrived indignation of the usual suspects. In the UK, Johnson was given a 6 year sentence, which on the face of it seems harsh considering he could have waited probably another six months and had full sex with his victim legally instead of simply grooming her, but after the recent grooming gang scandals, the judge decided rightly to send a message that underage girls are off limits, whoever you are. Having said that, are either of these men really a danger to girls or women? More to the point, will prison teach them anything? Turner will not be behind bars long enough for us to find out, but Johnson will likely be a target for other inmates, both as a sex offender and as a fallen celebrity. The bottom line is that prison is not likely to teach him or others like him anything. On the other hand, flogging...

Under Sharia, corporal punishment is applied in certain circumstances. Malaysia uses caning, which can be brutal. Although judicial corporal punishment was abolished in the UK in 1948, the last ever prison flogging was carried out as late as 1962, and the Isle of Man retained the birch until 1976. As will be seen from this short video, it was popular with the locals, and was believed to be responsible for keeping down the violent crime rate.

Of course, there are the usual bleeding heart arguments about corporal punishment being inhumane, etc, but is it more humane to lock a man in a cell for perhaps 23 hours a day for months or years on end where he may go stir crazy, and will certainly be poorly adapted for reintegration into society? Some form of corporal punishment would surely be preferable for younger vandals, thieves, anti-socials and minor sexual offenders. People can become used to prison - institutionalised - but physical pain is always a different matter.

Finally, let us not forget the austerity angle; the prison system is expensive to run, so flogging even ten thousand thieves, vandals and sex offenders a year would not only save significant sums but would free up money to use for effective community-based rehabilitation programmes.

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