1994 USA Today Op/Ed: Bring Back The Switch?

An American, Michael Fay, wreaked thousands of dollars of damage during weeks of vandalism in Singapore. Yet the four strokes he received across his rear end as part of his punishment have been described as harsh.

That’s a difficult charge to defend, coming from a country where 24 million of us fall victim to violent crime each year — that’s 46 people each minute of every day — and where there’s been a 500% increase in crime during the past 30 years. And it’s a particularly difficult charge to pin on Singapore, whose 3 million citizens suffered just 60 murders and 80 rapes last year.

Perhaps Singapore is onto something in its understanding of crime and punishment practices that U.S. “experts” are overlooking.

Our society is awash in statistics that scream for changes in the treatment of criminal behavior: 30% of murders, 25% of rapes and 40% of robberies are committed by felons on parole, bail, or probation. Caning criminals’ backsides hard enough so that the guilty parties carry the painful and humiliating experience as a reminder of their illicit behavior may be too much of a culture shock to impose on the USA.

Possibly the tide of violent crime isn’t high enough yet. Or maybe there’s still more money to be collected by the tax man to build even more jails.

On the other hand, reintroducing corporal punishment into our justice system would be of positive benefit. Indeed, corporal punishment was an option of some local courts as recently as the 1940s.

Applying a switch to the bottoms of young people, not scarring but certainly scaring them, could be in some cases more humane — and effective — than simply locking up young punks with their more experienced criminal elders.

Viewing lawbreakers as misguided misfits in need of training and education is only half true — and obviously ineffective. Responsibility and retribution are vital factors long missing in our treatment of illegal behavior. For some, a couple of whacks on the bottom may go a long way in the character-building process.

Corporal punishment — an old enough idea to seem new — is an effective deterrent that could be considered in certain cases as part of the options available to communities under siege from criminals of all ages.


This editorial appeared in USA Today, May 6, 1994

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