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Judicial CP - June 2018

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The Gleaner, Henderson, Kentucky, 2 June 2018

Boyett: Judge gave boys a choice, jail or a whipping

By Frank Boyett
Special to The Gleaner

Former Henderson County Judge Eugene Chaney

Whacking people to make them act better isn't as popular as it once was.

I can recall getting paddled more than once during my school years, but that seems to have fallen out of favor these days. I can't say that it made me act any better -- just more careful.

Singapore, however, still handles punishment in the old-school style. Authorities there will hit you with a cane at least three times (and perhaps as many as eight) for vandalism. Or for stealing public property. Many other offenses call for up to 24 strokes with a cane.

I say all that as preface to some judicial whippings that took place 50 years ago in the court of County Judge Eugene Chaney, which caused a bit of controversy. Two boys, both 17, had been hauled into court for breaking into a store, according to The Gleaner of June 5, 1968.

Chaney heard the case and gave the boys a choice. They could both take their whippings, after they found someone to administer them, or they could go the usual route and spend some time in the county jail.

The two youths prevailed upon a city police officer who at first refused but finally agreed after the boys said it was a case of him doing it or they might be 'sent up.'

The officer, even though reluctantly, is reported to have done a thorough job -- one that apparently met the approval of the judge and of the recipients as well. There was a marked change in their attitude from last week to this, the judge said.

The following Sunday The Gleaner's editorial page took Judge Chaney to task for "cruel and inhuman treatment" that was more suited to 19th Century prisons. "We thought whipping went out with the public square stocks."

It also criticized City Police Judge L.B. Lawton for the sentence he had imposed on a 19-year-old who illegally had an adult obtain liquor for him. He got 10 days in jail; he also had to get a haircut.

"The personal tastes of a hairstyle-conscious judge should not be imposed upon a lawbreaker when it has no connection with the crime." The editorial went so far as to call the haircut "extralegal" punishment.

The Gleaner's editorial prompted a response from John Judson Pearson, which appeared in the edition of June 11. He took issue with The Gleaner's editorial stance, defending the use of haircuts and corporal punishment.

The Gleaner, he wrote, "completely missed the point and illustrated that people of goodwill have harmed society's rights by misguided application of the term civil rights." The judges, he wrote, deserved praise for crafting penalties to fit the crimes, which both deterred future crime and held the best hope rehabilitating the offenders.

"I am certain that those boys suffered less from the whipping than they would have suffered from incarceration. Also, I am certain they have a greater respect for law and society's rights than from any other punishment that might have been ordered."

Pearson then went on to address the sentence imposed by Judge Lawton. Some youngsters with long hair may be rebelling for the sake of rebellion, but other "misguided rebels" posed a danger to society by "a total rejection of all our society's standards."

"Judge Lawton may have made a respectable citizen out of this boy by cutting his hair. The judge did see the link between the long hair and violation of another law. If judges nationwide were to follow this lead it could make a mark in the history books as the beginning of a return to national sanity and a stable law-abiding society."

The controversy prompted The Gleaner to publish an article June 16 that took an in-depth look at how the local criminal justice system handled juveniles. Several teenagers were interviewed and -- surprisingly enough -- they agreed with Judge Chaney's whippings, although they considered them old-fashioned.

Steve Jennings called the whippings a "tried and true" and fair punishment. Ann Alvis also approved. But she disagreed with the mandatory haircut.

"I don't see the connection between the hair cutting and that crime," she said. "A punishment should be in relation to the crime. Such punishments are felt as a cut at teens as a whole, and lessen one's respect for the punishment. They create unnecessary prejudices."

Overall, the teens pretty much agreed the judges had acted within their judicial discretion.

Judge Chaney was interviewed for that story as well, and ended it with this quote: "Juvenile courts could do a better job if they have backing and support instead of public criticism."

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