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Canada - Judicial and prison whipping

Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on Capital and Corporal Punishment and Lotteries, 1953-55

Minutes of Evidence (extracts)

23 March 1954
Witness: Mr R.M. Allan, Warden, Kingston Penitentiary

"The infliction of corporal punishment is very definitely a deterrent to certain types of criminals, particularly between the age group of 16 and 24. The strap, however, from our experience, is more effective than the lash and has not the psychological effect upon the individual after its application.

"We have never known of any instances where any persons who had received corporal punishment developed an embittered attitude towards life in general. On occasion we have known inmates who have requested an increase in the amount of strokes provided they could obtain a reduction in the [prison] sentence to be served. On one other occasion I can recall an inmate of 24 who commented after infliction of corporal punishment that if he had received this type of punishment in earlier life he would have stayed out of jail.

"The procedure followed when any person is received into the penitentiary and who has received along with his sentence the application of corporal punishment is that first a check is made with the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Ontario to determine whether an application has been filed for leave to appeal. This request is usually delayed until the 30-day period has elapsed. When a clearance is received, the inmate is paraded before the penitentiary physician on the morning of the day the application is to be administered, and if certified fit, the punishment is carried out during the holding of the warden's noon-day court.

"If any doubt exists that a mental condition might be present, the inmate is referred to our psychiatrist before the infliction of corporal punishment is carried out. Should the psychiatrist certify that corporal punishment should not be carried out, authority is requested from the Remission Service for either cancellation or postponement.

"I consider it very necessary that the authority for inflicting corporal punishment for serious prison offences should be continued. It is definitely a deterrent ....

"Before the infliction of any corporal punishment for prison offences the inmate is always paraded to the psychiatrist's office for a mental examination.

(Displays photographs) "This is what we call our "strapping table". It is often referred to as the "paddling table" in other institutions."

Q. Could you describe the table in more detail? It is a table which looks to me to have a leather cushion on top.

A. "Leather pads on top."

Q. It has a strap at one end with buckles, I presume, with which to tie the feet of the individual.

A. "On the lower part of it there are shackles each with two openings in which we put the feet of the inmates. The shackles are bolted on; the strap above is put over the small of the back, the strap at one end on top."

Q. You have shackles down on the floor at the end of the table?

A. "Yes, that is where the feet go."

Q. And he bends over and rests his body on the cushion-top table?

A. "Yes, he bends over, the strap over the small of the back ... is tightened according to the height of the man. At the other end we have straps which we can fasten. You can see one of them hanging there. Those are the straps with which we fasten the man's hands.

"There is an adjustment bar underneath, on both sides, by which we can either raise or lower the table according to the height of the man in order to inflict the lash. We bare his back across his shoulders. With the strap we lower his pants and he is strapped on the buttocks, and we take precaution to see that the strap actually hits his buttocks."

Q. Are any permanent marks left?

A. "No. The strap bruises, but it is much the same as when a person receives a blow on the skin, it becomes discolored."

Q. Was there never any inmate who was embittered against society because he had been lashed or whipped?

A. "No. At the present time there are perhaps 75 to 100 inmates in Kingston who have been strapped, and I may say they are hardened criminals. But I have talked to these boys probably two or three days after they have been strapped or lashed and there has been no mention whatsoever made of their bearing any grudge."

Q. Once you have used the strap for the purpose of discipline, do you have to use it again on the same individual?

A. "On very rare occasions, particularly with young boys, one application is enough. But with the hardened type we may have to inflict it probably three or four times."

Q. Have you found that a strap with holes in it raises blisters?

A. "No."

Q. Which do you think is more severe, the strap or the lash?

A. "The strap is definitely more severe."

Q. I think the average man would believe the lash is more severe.

A. "From the psychological viewpoint the lash is more severe."

Q. What is the maximum punishment you are allowed to give?

A. "We usually obtain authority or recommend authority from the commissioner to inflict the number of ten. That is pretty well the maximum established now, with the proviso that we inflict five, and five are withheld for a year, depending on future behavior."

Q. Are strapping and paddling one and the same thing?

A. "Strapping and paddling are the same thing but we prefer to call it paddling. Lashing is applied across the shoulders with the cat of nine tails. The strap is applied across the bare buttocks ... In the present prison administration we use only the strap."

Q. Why are there holes in the strap?

A. "We found that a strap with no holes has a tendency to turn. By turning it might cut."

Q. Have you known any occasion when a doctor has had to stop a strapping?

A. "I can recall one or two occasions."

Q. Why?

A. "It may have an effect on the man's heart or an inmate receiving it may collapse."

Q. Then it is still a pretty brutal instrument?

A. "It may be caused by the shock."

Q. Does the prisoner know the person who is administering the strap?

A. "No, he is blindfolded."

Q. At what stage are they blindfolded?

A. "After they are placed on the table."

Q. You have mentioned the age group of 16 to 24 as being the group in which you consider corporal punishment to be most beneficial. What numbers would fall within that age group?

A. "The majority would be the more restless type of boy, between 18 and 21. You have a decreasing percentage from then on ...."

Q. Can you describe the procedure in the warden's court?

A. "We obtain the evidence under oath. The charge is read and the inmate given every opportunity to question the officer. The inmate can make any statement and the evidence is submitted to the Commissioner of Prisons for approval ... If the Commissioner approves of the warden's recommendation, then ... the inmate is sent over to the hospital to be examined and to the psychiatrist also. If the Medical Officer and the psychiatrist report that the prisoner is fit, then we proceed to the carrying out of the sentence."

Q. Will you tell us exactly what happens when a prisoner, either as part of his sentence or as part of prison disciplinary action, is actually brought into the room where the strapping is to take place? Do they frequently resist and do your guards have to resort to force to have them fixed to the table?

A. "Very rare. Not more than perhaps two or three percent."

Q. What sort of cases?

A. "Particularly with respect to outside sentences they are usually brought in and the committal is read out to them, also the offence, the direction of the Court and they are then taken out of one room and right into a hall and the punishment is imposed there."

Q. In two or three percent of cases it may be necessary to drag the man to the table?

A. "I have never known any inmate who has been sentenced by an outside court to require to be put on the table by force, but we have known cases where men have been sentenced for serious prison offences where we have had to use force to put them on the table."

Q. Could you say something about the force of the blows?

A. "We have about ten officers who we detail or can detail for the infliction of corporal punishment, simply because they are consistent. We do not allow any viciousness to be attached to it. It is a very unpleasant duty to start with, and we usually detail one of our senior officers to carry out the punishment. There is bound to be a variation in the intensity of the strokes. That is bound to happen; we cannot help it."

Q. It is clear that the object is to inflict pain?

A. "Yes."

Q. Would you just raise the arm and strike down or do you swing?

A. "With the lash you have to raise your arm and strike down. With the strap it is a sideward motion."

Q. Do you have any regulations or instructions to your own officers as to how far back they shall carry their arm before they start the forward motion?

A. "No. In the first place you have to have sufficient momentum on the strap that is going to strike in a flat position."

Q. The fact remains that it could vary from prisoner to prisoner?

A. "Oh yes, it can vary."

Q. I see by the Act that unless some other punishment is specified that when a person is ordered to be whipped it is the cat-o'-nine-tails used and not the strap?

A. "Outside courts may specify either instrument, but they do not always specify the type of instrument."

Q. If they do not specify it, it is the whip?

A. "The strap is used."

Q. You said that you thought the strap should be applied early during the sentence?

A. "We have known cases a number of years ago where sentences specified that an inmate would receive ten strokes a period of three months after his arrival, and ten strokes thirty days before his discharge. That fortunately has been changed ... We would prefer to give the man his corporal punishment as soon as we can ... He gets that over with. It relieves his mind of the situation right away and then he ... has not got this dread hanging over him for two or three years afterwards as the case may be."

Q. You stated that the strap is now used exclusively at Kingston penitentiary?

A. "It always has been."

Q. Why?

A. "Because it is a more effective instrument in bringing about and controlling discipline."

Q. Would you recommend therefore that there be a change in the Code in which it specifies that the strap is used rather than this other instrument?

A. "I would, yes."

Q. Who ordinarily attends the carrying out of sentence and why are they there?

A. "The warden is the sole head of the institution and either he or the acting warden, by regulation, must be there. The deputy warden is the senior disciplinary official of the institution. The chief keeper must attend, the doctor is there for medical reasons. The other officers are there more or less to control the situation should the inmate become unruly. We have usually four or five. Occasionally you get a very strong individual on that table and he can lift the table itself during the infliction of the punishment and we have to put perhaps two officers on the ledge which you see there to keep the table solid on the floor."

Q. Warden Allan might describe the two instruments for the purpose of the record.

A. "The strap consists of a piece of sole leather 16 inches long by 2 inches wide, with a leather handle which is approximately 10 inches long. In the body of the strap there are 8 holes of approximately one-quarter inch diameter, spread at even intervals."

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Copyright Colin Farrell 1999
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