corporal punishment, physical chastisement of an offender. At one extreme it includes the death penalty (see capital punishment), but the term usually refers to punishments like flogging, caning, mutilation, and branding. Until c.1800, in many parts of the world, most crimes were punished thus, or by such practices as confinement in the pillory or stocks, which combined physical chastisement with the humiliation of an individual possible in a relatively small, cohesive society. Flogging was especially prevalent, being used also to keep order among the institutionalized insane and in schools and the armed forces.
In America, a movement against the use of corporal punishment was led in the late 17th cent. by Quakers who achieved local reforms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The 18th cent. saw a general reaction against violent punishment, and with the emergence of the modern concept of rehabilitating an offender, confinement has been accompanied more by forms of moral, rather than physical, coercion. Nonetheless, the use of the whipping post survived in the United States into the 20th cent., and was last used in 1952 in Delaware.
The effectiveness of corporal punishment has been questioned by criminologists and educators, but it is still widely used. Flogging, for instance, was not banned in South Africa until 1995, and caning is employed in Singapore and Malaysia. Within British and American prisons flogging and beatings are still used, unofficially, to maintain order. Mutilation, including amputation of fingers and hands, is also used in some countries, especially in those whose legal system is based on Islamic law. Caning and spanking remain common in schools in some areas of the United States and Britain. Movements to restore or encourage corporal punishment of children recur periodically, as in rural and Southern parts of the United States.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.