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Judicial CP - September 1974

Corpun file 7488 at

The Straits Times, Singapore, 7 September 1974

How it is carried out in prison

Caning - the most dreaded punishment

By T.F. Hwang

SYMPATHY, like trust and faith, can be grossly misplaced. Especially when it concerns caning by court orders - 20 strokes plus jail for young armed robbers, drug traffickers and other serious lawbreakers.

"Twenty strokes! That's brutal!" were the words echoed and re-echoed to me by decent people with gentle hearts.

And I would have readily endorsed this view but for what I do know of the present crime situation, the law and the courts.

The law, however, has not changed when it comes to administering the cane in prison.

It is not generally known that a prisoner has to be medically certified fit before he gets the strokes. A prison medical officer is at hand to ensure nothing goes wrong.

All the strokes, ordered by a sentencing court, have to be delivered in one session.

Contrary to popular beliefs, no deferment or caning by instalments is allowed.

What happens then if a prisoner, while being caned, is genuinely unable to take in one extra stroke?

In such event, caning on medical advice is instantly stopped and a written report is subsequently tendered to the court.

The court, acting on the report, may direct that the prisoner serve a longer specified prison term in lieu of the uncompleted balance of the strokes or none at all - allowing its original jail sentence to run.

How is caning carried out? Not having the advantage of observing it, I have to rely on eye witnesses' reports by my friends.

A prisoner, I am told, is strapped hand and feet to an easel-like stand.

He bends over with his bottoms [sic] up, ready to get his punishment.

Except for a protective cover on his spine, he is wholly naked.


At a given order, the cane-wielder brings the rotan down on him with a swish.

From all accounts, the cane-wielder is an expert. There are two of them, I'm told, both with Adonis physiques.

One informant told me: "I saw blood at the fourth stroke. The prisoner slumped over in evident terrible pain. The caning stopped."

Another, describing a different occasion where a rapist got his full seven strokes, said:

"The caner was remarkably good. No two strokes inflicted by him fell on the same spot. It was one slightly above or below the other.

"Had they been otherwise, the consequences could be horrible. The caning was implemented with machine-like precision."

This inside-story of caning in prison, I feel, deserves a wider audience for its deterrent impact.

In the Singapore context, caning is the most dreaded form of punishment.

If proof be needed, I need only recall the very many instances when young and middleaged offenders, under caning orders, begged the Appeal Court in vain to suspend them and give longer prison terms instead.

Often have I heard judges of the High Court telling the supplicants:

"You deserve each and every stroke of the caning sentences to make you realise the pain and suffering you cause to others."

All this, I must clarify, happened early last year before the legislature extended the caning powers of the courts to more offences.

Nowadays, hardly a week passes without the mass media carrying court reports of convicted people being sentenced to jail and caning.

Twenty strokes is not too uncommon.

Females, anybody under sentence of death, and people over 50 years or who appear to the court to be 50-plus are exempted from caning.

But it is only in recent weeks that the first appeals by prisoners, under 20-stroke sentences, were heard and dismissed by the High Court.


Except for one youth, sentenced for unlawful possession of a gun and bullets, the others were convicted of two armed robbery charges -- with similar charges taken into consideration.

Only one lawyer in those appeal cases stood up to submit that the caning order was "inhumane and harsh." His plea failed.

As I heard them, counsel for the others appeared reconciled to the fact that caning orders for armed robbers, even for those with previous clear records, must necessarily be consecutive -- 10 strokes per charge being the minimum.

Thus, they did not implore the court on their clients' behalf to reduce of the quantum of strokes -- recognising that the only remedy for this lies with Parliament.

Until Parliament changes the law, there is nothing that can be done.

And so the lawyers argued on -- not for the caning orders to be concurrent but for the long additional prison terms of their clients to be reduced. Their request was granted in some instances.

The more people know about caning and the law, the better for every one.

For idealists and liberalists: they will be less stolid.

For the criminally-minded, they will be less prone to commit crime.

For the public, they will be less reluctant to stand up in court and help bring the guilty to book. In 1954 we abolished flogging with cat-of-nine-tales for graver crimes.

Around 1955-56, I am told, we abolished caning by teachers in school -- reserving the rights for principals.

To recommend bringing the cane back to the classroom seems to be a backward step.

Teachers and pupils today are different from the old where there was so much of teacher-pupil relationship in evidence.

Schools were smaller then. Every teacher and every child in the same school were known to each other -- for years in most cases.

Rapport was good. When a teacher had to cane a pupil, he often did it more in sorrow than in anger. The child respected him for that and benefited from the whacking.

But give a teacher today the right to cane and chances are he might lose his cool. He may over-react. The hostility becomes mutual. That is the danger in introducing classroom caning.

But caning for criminals is entirely different matter.

Corpun file 6656 at

The Straits Times, Singapore, 13 September 1974

Branding the Bad Hats for Life

By P.M. Raman

THE Director of Prisons, Mr. Quek Shi Lei, yesterday gave a graphic, blow-by-blow account of how criminals are caned so they will walk with scarred bottoms for the rest of their lives.

press cuttingAnd he stressed that the caning would be administered in such a way that criminals would get "a taste of the violence they had inflicted on their victims."


"As executors of this punishment, we would be failing in our duty if we do not administer it in the spirit in which it was designed," he told a press conference.

To ensure that this was done, officers meting out the punishment were carefully selected and kept on regular training.

There are, at the moment, four such trained warders in the Prison Department -- all robustly built and holding "quite high" grades in martial arts.

When caning, a warder, wielding a half an inch thick and four feet long cane, uses the whole of his body weight, and not just the strength of his arms, to strike.

As a result the skin at the point of contact is usually split open and, after three strokes, the buttocks will be covered with blood.

Under existing prison regulations, caning is inflicted only on the buttocks.

All the strokes prescribed by the court -- the High Court can prescribe a maximum of 24 strokes and other courts a maximum of 20 -- are given at one and the same time, at half minute intervals.

The prisoner is examined by the prison doctor, both before and after the punishment.

The cane is soaked in water overnight to prevent it from splitting on contact with the buttocks and embedding splinters in the resulting wound.

How is a prisoner prepared for caning? Mr. Quek said:

"Normally, the prisoner is informed a few days beforehand when he is to be caned. It is carried out in privacy and out of sight of other prisoners.


"The prisoner, stripped of all his clothes, is strapped to a trestle by his ankles and wrists.

"The trestle is like two 'Hs' which are joined at the top and extended at the base to about three feet.

"The horizontal bar on the prisoner's side is slightly padded and adjustable. The other one has strong leather straps for the prisoner's wrists."

Mr. Quek said strong straps were necessary as, in the course of caning, most prisoners struggled violently.

When a prisoner is strapped down, he is bent at about right angles at the hip. A heavy padding is tied across his waist to prevent accidental injury to his spine.

After the prisoner has been properly strapped down, the officer administering the cane and a senior officer will take up their positions, on each side of the prisoner.

The caning officer will stand about five feet away and adjust his position with the aid of the cane he is using.


Mr. Quek said: "Correct positioning is critically important. If he is too near the prisoner, the tip of the cane will fall beyond the buttocks and the force of the stroke will cause the unsupported tip to dip and bend the cane and thus reduce the effect of the stroke.

"If he is too far, the stroke will only cover part of the buttocks."

The stroke follows the count, and the succeeding count is usually made about half a minute after the stroke has landed.

Most of the prisoners put up a violent struggle after each of the first three strokes.

Mr. Quek said: "After that, their struggles lessen as they become weaker. At the end of the caning, those who receive more than three strokes will be in a state of shock.

"Many will collapse, but the medical officer and his team of assistants are on hand to revive them and apply antiseptic on the caning wound."

Mr. Quek added: "Many will pretend to faint but they cannot fool the prison medical officer whose presence is legally required.


"Every prisoner undergoing caning must be examined by the medical officer and certified to be in a fit state of health to undergo caning before the punishment is carried out."

He said that when a prisoner was found unfit to undergo caning or where caning was stopped on medical advice before the sentence was fully carried out, a report would be made to the court which passed the sentence.

The court might sentence the prisoner to an additional term of imprisonment, in lieu of the wholly or partially unexecuted sentence of caning.

Mr. Quek said: "The prisoners do fear caning. Firstly, the fear of pain and then whether they will be able to control themselves from crying out during the course of the caning.

"To cry means a terrible loss of face to them.

"Secondly, the cane marks are indelible and these will be a source of humiliation to them throughout the rest of their lives."

The Straits Times, Singapore, 14 September 1974


Brutal Blow

SINGAPOREANS must have wondered why the Director of Prisons felt it necessary to give such a graphic, blow-by-blow account -- in the terms he used on Thursday -- of how criminals are caned. Mr. Quek Shi Lei is believed to have called his press conference to give other newspapers the facts after the Straits Times of Sept. 7 published a background report on "the most dreaded punishment". The Straits Times report was factual and restrained, befitting the nature of the subject. Mr. Quek's account could give the impression of a prison administration which relishes its power to inflict punishment and which fulfils its responsibilities in a spirit more akin to the days of the cat-o'-nine-tails -- banned here in 1954 -- than to the times in which we live. The overall impact of Mr. Quek's unnecessarily colourful presentation might well have struck a blow for the abolitionists' cause.

Also on Thursday, Deputy Commissioner of Police V.N. Ratnasingham said there was a need to "deter the potential offender by penalties equated to the seriousness of the crime and to incapacitate the actual violent criminal for periods proportional to his violence, thus balancing with pain the pleasure a criminal derives from his violent acts." That is the basic argument of the "tough regime" school of penology, and those who oppose or question it on humanitarian grounds would be well advised to spare a thought for the victims of violent crime. This does not mean, however, that punishment should degenerate into brutality. Its purpose could well be lost, then, hardening the criminal, making him irredeemable and a permanent menace to society. Even the hardcore criminal deserves less than brutality. For this reason, it seems advisable to review the methodology of punishment.

Mr. Quek said that cane scars were indelible and that these would be "a source of humiliation" to criminals "throughout the rest of their lives." Is the indelible marking of prisoners deliberate? Or is it a by-product of a method operated by specially selected cane-wielders in peak physical condition, using techniques designed to obtain the maximum effect possible? Whatever the answer, marking a criminal for life -- even on a spot not immediately visible to others -- smacks of barbaric medievalism, under which offenders were "branded" for life. The world has progressed from those dark days and, without detracting from the need for deterrent punishment for hardcore criminals, rehabilitation is considered a vital aspect of prison administration today -- in Singapore as elsewhere. "Marking" an offender is incompatible with rehabilitation. Besides, if criminals are brutalised, caning as a form of court-ordered punishment could well lose its social acceptance.

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