corpun logoWorld Corporal Punishment Research

rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  Up to 1975   :  US Prison Dec 1894


Prison CP - December 1894

Corpun file 22997


The New York Times, 11 December 1894

Findings of the Majority.

The Reformatory in Its System and Methods Is a Model.


Press cutting

ALBANY, Dec. 10 -- The majority report, signed by Dr. Austin Flint and Israel T. Deyo, discusses at considerable length the appointment of the commission and the methods of procedure in the investigation. It said:

A thorough personal examination has been made of the reformatory from time to time during the progress of the investigation. Every courtesy and facility was afforded to us to inspect the actual workings of the institution in its various branches, and to converse privately with the inmates, of which we freely availed ourselves.

The complainants, without restriction to any specific issues, were permitted, without objection, to introduce evidence to support, upon any theory of the case, the general charges preferred against the Managers, of "misconduct, incompetency, and neglect of duty." All the books and records of the institution called for were placed before us, and the complainants had ample opportunity to examine the same.

"In many instances, however," the report continues, "we deemed it advisable to go outside the line of prosecution and defense marked out by the attorneys for the respective parties, and called witnesses on our own account relative to any matter which would throw light on the management of the reformatory."

This course was taken because we deemed it our duty to lay before the Governor the fullest information obtainable within the limits of our commission, regarding the practical workings of the reformatory and the alleged abuses connected with its management. We believe our report covers every material fact upon which a finding was requested, whether embraced by the charges specifically preferred against the Managers or not.

The history and development of the institution are then taken up, and then the general features of the reformatory are pointed out.

General Features of the Reformatory.

In view of the excellent results that have been accomplished at the Elmira Reformatory, in the reformation of criminals, and of the recognized prominence of the institution as an example of a practical application of the highest scientific theories to the treatment of the criminal, we should fall far short of our duty and do inexcusable injury to the cause of prison reform did we omit to clearly distinguish between the defects or errors in the internal management of the institution and the institution itself.

From our personal examination, as well as from the evidence brought before us on this investigation, we have been deeply impressed with the magnitude and general excellence of the work that is being accomplished at the reformatory. Certain defects or errors in the internal management were brought to light. To these we shall refer later. The institution, taken as a whole, is a remarkable exhibition of detailed organization. It combines within itself a prison, a school of letters, a school of technology, a school of physical training, a series of manufacturing departments, and a military camp, wherein the pupil, the worker, and cadet is a felon whom society, for its own protection, has been compelled to deprive of his liberty.

The convicts received here are felons sentenced to the Reformatory for offenses among the gravest known to our laws. They come largely from the lowest stratum of society, ungoverned and ungovernable, ignorant, intemperate, contaminated from early youth by bad home surroundings and associations, without trades or legitimate callings. All, however, are not instinctive or natural criminals. Some clearly belong to that class known as accidental or occasional criminals, who, with different training and surroundings, might have been instead of a hindrance an aid to the advancement and progress of society. The problem, the solution of which has been attempted at the Elmira Reformatory, is how to take this class of vicious and unfortunate men and return them to society honest, law-abiding, self-supporting citizens; how to protect society through the reformation of the criminal.


As to the Spankings.

Press cutting

The question of corporal punishment is discussed at length, and a description of what is commonly known as "the paddle" is given as follows:

The spankings were administered by the General Superintendent in person with a strap 22 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 3-16 inch thick, moistened in water so as to make it soft and pliable, invariably applied to the bare buttocks. In two or three instances, many years ago, a short piece of rubber hose was used in place of the strap.

The spanking, or "paddling," as the prosecution called it, was one of the charges on which great stress was laid. It was claimed that this was "brutal." The report says:

During the five years, 1889-93, there were 3,922 different convicts in the reformatory. Of that number, 1,150, or 29.5 per cent., at some time during the period of their confinement received one or more spankings; while 2,722, or 70.5 per cent., were never spanked. The total number of spankings administered: 2,589, aggregating 19,597 blows, were inflicted upon the 1,150 convicts so spanked. Of the 1,150 convicts spanked, 580 or 50.4 per cent were spanked once only, while 240, or 20.9 per cent., were spanked twice only, leaving 330, or 8 per cent. of the entire convict population during that period who were spanked more than twice. One hundred and thirty-seven convicts were spanked three times only, leaving 198, or less than 5 per cent., of the entire convict population during the five years who were spanked more than three times.

Spankings have been seldom, if ever, inflicted for a single act or breach of discipline, however gross. Such punishments were resorted to, as a rule, for continued, persistent, and willful refusal to comply with reasonable and proper regulations, after admonitions, warnings, reduction in grade, and other incentives to good conduct had failed. In 4,261 instances during these five years convicts were sent to the bathroom for interviews with the General Superintendent.

In one instance it appears that a convict (Facey) was spanked for refusal to give evidence concerning an offense in which it was believed at the time he was himself implicated, a proceeding which we find to be unjustifiable and improper.

The blows with the strap were applied with sufficient force, frequently, to cause redness and discoloration, but in no instance does it appear that the force and character of the blow were sufficient to break or cut the skin, or to cause the blood to flow, except, in one or two instances, from a pimple on the buttocks, which was broken by the blow. In no case does it appear that any convict has fainted or fallen to the floor from the effects of the spanking. In no case does it appear that a convict ever received any serious or permanent injury, or any injury leaving a permanent mark, as a result, directly or indirectly, of a spanking inflicted by the General Superintendent.

During the administration of the punishment by spanking, it sometimes occurred that a convict would throw himself upon the floor and refuse to stand in position against the wall to receive his punishment, and in cases of persistent refusal of this kind, handcuffs were sometimes placed upon his wrists, and, by means of a cord attached to the handcuffs running over a pulley, he was raised to his feet and held in an upright position. In one or two instances while thus raised the prisoner was for an instant lifted clear from the floor, but in no ease does it appear that a prisoner was ever "strung up" clear of the floor while being spanked or otherwise punished. The convict, during the process of the spanking, invariably rested, or could rest, his entire weight upon his feet.

The General Superintendent occasionally inflicted slaps across the face with the strap in the bathroom because of the refusal of the prisoner to obey the injunction to keep his head turned in a certain direction, and also occasionally struck a man a slight blow over the head with the strap. In some instances these blows were of sufficient force to cause discolored faces, bloody noses, and swollen eyes. Such occurrences were not frequent, and when a prisoner's nose was caused to bleed, this result was accidental and unintentional, and the injury in all cases was temporary.

The General Superintendent did occasionally also strike a prisoner a light blow with his open hand or with his closed fist. These occasions were exceedingly rare, and the blows were of such a character as to leave no perceptible effect.

As to the excessive use of the strap, the findings of the Commissioners do not substantiate the charges. They are given in the Governor's opinion. The report says:

During the five years immediately preceding Sept. 30, 1893, when the use of corporal punishment in the reformatory was suspended, 373 inmates were reported for fighting, an average of 35.3 for each period of six months during that time. During the six months immediately following the suspension of corporal punishment, 172 inmates were reported for the same offense, or more than four and one-half times as many as the average number reported for that offense during any corresponding period of six months within the five preceding years.

Spanking is a sharp and short mode of punishment. The effect upon the prisoner is immediate. It does not interfere with his education in any way. The prisoner is put at work soon after the punishment. His mind and attention are occupied, and he is not very likely to brood long over fancied injuries and injustices.

We find that corporal punishment, under proper restrictions and regulations, is preferable to other modes of punishment, which must necessarily take its place if corporal punishment should be abolished.

Some criticism is made as to the completeness of the medical records, say the Commissioners. They add:

It is proper to say that the physician has been faithful and painstaking in the performance of his duties, and attentive to the needs of the convicts, except in the matter of the keeping of records.

In the year 1878 the number of convicts in the reformatory was 248. In the year 1893 the average daily convict population was 1,470. While it is evident that the duties of the physician in 1878, with a population of 244, could be efficiently performed by a medical man in general practice, not residing in the reformatory, it is equally evident that the demands of a population of 1,470 convicts, nearly all engaged in manual labor, are such that the existing provisions for medical and surgical care and superintendence are inadequate.


About this website

Search this site

Country files: United States prison CP

External links: Prison CP

Archive up to 1975: USA

Video clips

Picture index

blob THE ARCHIVE index

blob Video clips

blob Picture index

blob About this website

blob Country files  Main menu page

Copyright © C. Farrell 2011
Page created March 2011