The New York Times writes about corporal punishment in American schools, legal in a broad swathe of red America, but in practice overwhelmingly taking place in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. Obviously, as a good upscale liberal my instincts are overhwelmingly opposed to this. In addition, my ex ante skepticism that Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama have together hit upon a useful public policy experiment ignored by the rest of the nation is extremely high.
That said, on a subject I’ve given more thought to it seems to me that we actually ought to seriously consider adding a corporal punishment component to our criminal justice system. Sanctioning offenders works better when the punishment is swift and predictable, which means it helps a lot for the sanctions to be cheap, which prison is not. What’s more, though caning is cruel, the reality of the American prison system — as opposed to the hopes of reformers decades ago — is pretty damn cruel as well. So I think there really might be something to, well, beating people rather than imprisoning them for at least some offenses. Which, I guess, means it should be on the table as something to contemplate for the schools system as well. But my conscience really rebels against the idea of hitting kids and it’s not as if the rural southern counties are known world-round for their excellent schools.