Physical punishment for wrong doings is an ancient practice. While this practise has stood the test of time, there are some flaws to the practice which have become more apparent with time. An apparent lack of rehabilitation for offenders leads to the rise in repeat offenders. The vicious cycle leads to the decline in the effectiveness of physical punishment despite its growing popularity in more right wing societies.
We often hear of the medieval stories of kings and rulers summoning their enemies or betrayers to a few lashings for misbehaving or committing a crime. This practice has evolved little since then. Today, parents still flog their children when they are disobedient. Likewise, political authorities punish offenders through physical abuse, incarceration or execution.
Corporal punishment serves to punish people for their wrong doings but fails to explain why their activity was seen as unlawful in the eyes of the law. Prolonged punishment with failure of explanation can lead to detrimental effects. A similar pattern is seen with disciplining young children. Discipline in the form of physically abusing children is still practiced today. The idea behind this practice is to subject the child to physical abuse when they have failed to comply with parental or house rules. This form of punishment is intended to teach the child that what they did was wrong and to make it clear that they are expected to follow rules of the house. However, the key step in this practice is to make it clear to the child after the punishment exactly why they are being punished. This final step, if forgotten, negates the effects of abusing the child. Continued failure to explain why the child is being punished can have negative impacts on the child. The physical abuse can be traumatic for the child and mentally scar the child for their entire lifetime. The child can begin to associate trying new things with possibly making a mistake and getting physically punished for making wrong choices. They will fail to learn why what they did was so wrong. In addition, they will grow accustomed to the punishment and not be able to predict when they have been wrong, so instead, they will become withdrawn, or in some cases, extremely careless and reckless.
The same can be said about the state exercising its political authority – using violence against their citizens. Punishment in the form of prison should be reserved only as a means to physically contain the dangerous offenders, so as to protect greater society. But the government should not be involved in torturing or harming prisoners in this process. As an example, the government of Indonesia recently gave out lashings to two homosexuals for engaging in sexual activity. This retrograde action not only reflects badly on the government, but does not explain nor justify why violence is necessary in this particular circumstance.
Prisons should offer a safe place to rehabilitate offenders. However, petty crime offenders, particularly juvenile prisoners, should be rehabilitated while in prison and allowed a second chance at life, especially if they show clear improvement in their behaviour.
The idea that we can beat the bad out of offenders has proven wrong. It merely instills fear, leading them to retaliate later on in life in bigger crimes. This response stems from a lack of understanding on why they are being punished, leading some offenders to think that they deserve the punishment, or sometimes that this is just the life they have been handed. The key lesson lies in explaining why the act was wrong rather than in the act of punishment itself. Based on this logic, we should aim not to merely punish offenders but explain why their actions were wrong. Rehabilitation in correctional facilities thus serves as a platform to teach good and to demonstrate the right way to act.
Prisoners subjected to corporal punishment without appropriate rehabilitation are likely re-offenders. This is due to their inability to decipher wrong from right. These offenders, who sometimes have been deprived on a good upbringing, expect punishment and life feels more like a probability game. Offenders lack confidence in their abilities to become good citizens because they lose hope in improving their life circumstance. This trend is evident in juvenile facilities worldwide.
The role of parents as well as political authorities is to teach what is correct behaviour, not to punish. Corporal punishment as a practice without rehabilitation serves little purpose in society.