Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment in the United States

Definition and Practical Information

Generally used to distinguish physical punishment such as imprisonment from pecuniary punishment such as a fine. For other meanings of it, read Corporal Punishment in the Legal Dictionary here.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry describes “corporal punishment” as “a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child’s unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language.” American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, position statement on corporal punishment in schools (updated September 2014).

Corporal Punishment in Schools

In practice in some schools, the use of corporal punishment is harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities.

In-school corporal punishment generally entails school personnel intentionally inflicting pain on
a child as a punishment or in an attempt to change the child’s behavior.

Notably, the very acts of corporal punishment that are permissible when applied to children in schools under some state laws would be prohibited as criminal assault or battery when applied to adults in the community in those very same states. (see below)

States should also be aware that in-school corporal punishment is often not applied equally to all students. Rather, the use of in-school corporal punishment tends to be associated with
characteristics such as a child’s race, national origin, sex, and/or disability status. Significantly,
such disparities can raise concerns of unlawful race, national origin, sex, or disability
discrimination under federal law, although statistics alone would not end an inquiry. According
to the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), over 110,000 students were subject to
corporal punishment in school during the 2013-2014 academic year.8 Yet in-school corporal
punishment and its related harm disproportionately impact students of color.

Based on the 2013- 2014 CRDC, approximately 40,000 — or more than one-third — of those students who were subjected to corporal punishment are black; black students, by comparison, make up only 16percent of the total public school student population.9 Similarly, in states where students were subjected to corporal punishment, black boys were 1.8 times as likely as white boys to be subject to corporal punishment, and black girls were 2.9 times as likely as white girls to be subject to corporal punishment.

Disparities in the use of in-school corporal punishment are not limited to race; boys and students with disabilities experience higher rates of corporal punishment. Based on the 2013-2014 CRDC, boys represented about 80 percent of all students experiencing corporal punishment.11 Similarly, in nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted,
students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at higher rates than students
without disabilities.12 These data and disparities shock the conscience.

Research shows that children who experience physical punishment are more likely to develop mental health issues, including alcohol and drug abuse or dependence, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and other personality disorders. (Afifi, T.O., et al., “Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results from a Nationally Representative U.S. Sample,” Pediatrics, Volume 130, Number 2 (August 2012)).

In November 2016, the Secretary of Education sent a letter urging state leaders to end the use of corporal punishment in schools, a practice repeatedly linked to harmful short-term and long-term outcomes for students. The letter from the Secretary was sent to governors and chief state school officers and provided links to resources that can be promoted by those state leaders and adopted by district and school leaders.

States Legislation on Corporal Punishment in Schools

States have the power to change the use of corporal punishment in Schools. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment. Statewide bans on corporal punishment were most recently enacted in Ohio in 2009 and New Mexico in 2011; additionally, many large urban school districts, like Atlanta, Houston, and Memphis, have banned corporal punishment even though the practice is still allowed in these districts’ states.

22 states allow the use of corporal punishment in their schools as a means to punish students or to otherwise influence student behavior. There are 22 states that either expressly permit in-school corporal punishment or where no state law prohibits it (as of March 2016). The 15 states that expressly permit corporal punishment are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. The seven states where no state law prohibits corporal punishment are Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, and South Dakota. The Department’s Compendium of School Discipline Laws and Regulations provides access to an online catalogue of the laws and regulations related to school discipline in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and compares laws across states and jurisdictions.

In conclusion:

State permits corporal punishment: 15 states
State bans corporal punishment: 29 states
No reference in state laws: 7 states

Corporal Punishment State Statutes and Regulations

  • Alabama — 16-28A-1; 16-28A-5
  • Alaska — 07.010
  • Arizona — 15-843
  • Arkansas — 6-18-503; 6-17-112
  • California — ARTICLE 5 49000 – 49001
  • Connecticut — 53a-18
  • Delaware — Title 14, Section 702
  • District of Columbia — 2403.2
  • Florida — 1003.32
  • Georgia — 20-2-730; 20-2-731
  • Hawaii — 302A-1141; 703-309(2)
  • Illinois — 105 ILCS 5/24-24
  • Iowa — 280.21
  • Kentucky — KRS 158.148; 704 KAR 7:050
  • Louisiana — RS 17:223; RS 17:416.1; Administrative Code Title 28, Bulletin 741:1315
  • Maryland — 7-306; 13A.08.01.11
  • Massachusetts — Title XII/Chapter 71/Section 37G.
  • Michigan — 380.1312 (Act 451)
  • Minnesota — 121A.58
  • Mississippi — 37-11-57
  • Missouri — 160.261.1
  • Montana — 20-4-302
  • Nebraska — 79-295
  • Nevada — 388.478; 392.4633
  • New Jersey — 18A:6-1.
  • New Mexico — 22-5-4.3
  • New York — 19.5
  • North Carolina — 115C-390.4
  • North Dakota — 15.1-19-02
  • Ohio — 3319.41
  • Oklahoma — 70-24-100.4
  • Oregon — 339.250
  • Pennsylvania — 12.5
  • Rhode Island — 3.6
  • South Carolina — 59-63-260
  • Tennessee — 49-6-4103
  • Texas — 37.0011
  • Utah — 53A-11-802
  • Vermont — 16.025.1161a
  • Virginia — 22.1-279.1
  • Washington — 28A.150.300
  • West Virginia — 18A-5-1.
  • Wisconsin — 118.31
  • Wyoming — 21-4-308

Capital Punishment: Legal Aspects

Capital Punishment: Morality, Politics, and Policy;


See Also

  • Comparative Criminal Law
  • Law Enforcement
  • Islam
  • Cruel and Unusual Punishment
  • Shaming Punishments
  • Child Development
  • Children
  • Parenting
  • Violence
  • Juvenile Law
  • Legal systems

Further Reading (Books)

Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders. Report: Corporal Punishment. Cmnd. 1213. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1961.

Bahrampour, Firouzeh. “The Caning of Michael Fay: Can Singapore’s Punishment Withstand Scrutiny of International Law?” American University Journal of International Law & Policy 10 (1995): 1075-1108.

Cadogan Committee. Report of the Departmental Committee on Corporal Punishment. Cmnd. 5684. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1938. Reprint, 1963.

Caldwell, Robert G. “The Deterrent Influence of Corporal Punishment on Prisoners Who Have Been Whipped.” American Sociological Review 9 (1944): 171-177.

Canada, Parliament. Reports of the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on Capital Punishment, Corporal Punishment, Lotteries. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer and Controller of Stationery, 1956.

Council of Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights. Strasbourg, France: Directorate of Information, 1968.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977.

Kan, Steven S. “Corporal Punishments and Optimal Incapacitation.” Journal of Legal Studies 25 (1996): 121-130.

Matthews, Michael P. “Caning and the Constitution: Why The Backlash against Crime Won’t Result in the Backlashing of Criminals.” New York Law School Journal of Human Rights 14 (1998): 571-614.

Midgley, James O. “Corporal Punishment and Penal Policy: Notes on the Continued Use of Corporal Punishment with Reference to South Africa.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 73 (1982): 388-404.

Newman, Graeme. Just and Painful: A Case for the Corporal Punishment of Criminals. Harrow & Heston/Macmillan Book, 1983.

New Zealand Department of Justice. Crime in New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer, 1968.

Phillips, Barry. “The Case for Corporal Punishment in the United Kingdom: Beaten into Submission in Europe?” International & Comparative Law Quarterly 43 (1994): 153-163.

Rodley, Nigel S. The Treatment of Prisoners under International Law. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Scott, George Ryley. The History of Corporal Punishment: A Survey of Flagellation in Its Historical, Anthropological, and Sociological Aspects. Reprint. London: T. Werner Laurie, 1942.

United Nations Secretariat. “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.” First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Geneva, 22 August-3 September 1955. New York: United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1956. Pages 67-73.

Weidman, Whitney S. “Don’t Spare the Rod: A Proposed Return to Public, Corporal Punishment of Convicts.” American Journal of Criminal Law 23 (1996): 651-673.

Deater-Deckard, Kirby, and Kenneth A. Dodge. 1997. Externalizing Behavior Problems and Discipline Revisited: Nonlinear Effects and Variation by Culture, Context, and Gender. Psychological Inquiry 8 (3): 161-175.

Ember, Carol R., and Melvin Ember. 2005. Explaining Corporal Punishment of Children: A Cross-Cultural Study. American Anthropologist 107 (4): 609-619.

Lansford, Jennifer E., et al. 2005. Cultural Normativeness as a Moderator of the Link between Physical Discipline and Children’s Adjustment: A Comparison of China, India, Italy, Kenya, Philippines, and Thailand. Child Development 76 (6): 1234-1246.

Larzelere, Robert E. 2000. Child Outcomes of Nonabusive and Customary Physical Punishment by Parents: An Updated Literature Review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 3 (4): 199-221.

McLoyd, Vonnie C., and Julia Smith. 2002. Physical Discipline and Behavior Problems in African American, European American, and Latino Children: Emotional Support as a Moderator. Journal of Marriage and the Family 64 (1): 40-53.

Straus, Murray A. 1996. Spanking and the Making of a Violent Society. Pediatrics 98 (4S): 837-842.

Jennifer E. Lansford

Adams, Bruce F. (1996). The Politics of Punishment: Prison Reform in Russia, 1863-1917. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Kucherov, Samuel. (1953). Courts, Lawyers, and Trials under the Last Three Tsars. New York: Praeger.

Schrader, Abby M. (1997). “Containing the Spectacle of Punishment: The Russian Autocracy and the Abolition of the Knout, 1817-1845.” Slavic Review 56 (4): 613-644.

Shrader, O. (1922). “Crimes and Punishments, Teutonic and Slavic.” In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings. New York: Scribners.

Vernadsky, George, tr. (1947). Medieval Russian Laws. New York: Columbia University Press.

Boris N. Mironov

Further Reading (Articles)

Corporal Punishment in American Public Schools and the Rights of the Child, Journal of Law and Education; July 1, 2001; Roy, Lynn

Corporal punishment among children is common worldwide: study, Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India); August 10, 2010

PEF Rises to Ban Corporal Punishments in Schools, The Nation (Karachi, Pakistan); April 5, 2013

Ban Corporal Punishment in Educational Institutions, The New Nation (Dhaka, India); August 3, 2014

Ban on corporal punishment gets Congress nod, The Manila Times; February 17, 2010; TIONGSON, FRANK LLOYD

Teachers warned vs imposing corporal punishment on pupils.(Provincial News), Manila Bulletin; June 18, 2008

SPARC for End to Corporal Punishment in Schools, The Nation (Karachi, Pakistan); June 21, 2009

Corporal Punishment in the Educational System versus Corporal Punishment by Parents: A Comparative View, Law and Contemporary Problems; March 22, 2010; Shmueli, Benjamin

Belt-whipping Texas judge suspended: Sign of shift on corporal punishment?(USA)(William Adams), The Christian Science Monitor; November 23, 2011; Jonsson, Patrik

Corporal punishment in nation’s schools is diminishing; Local determination still under debate, Tri-State Defender; June 30, 2004; Webb, Arthur L.

Banning Corporal Punishment of Children: An ACEI Position Paper, Childhood Education; August 15, 2007; Paintal, Sureshrani

Banning Corporal Punishment of Children, Childhood Education; September 22, 1999; Paintal, Sureshrani

The Effect of Corporal Punishment on Antisocial Behavior in Children, Social Work Research; September 1, 2004; Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew

Issue of Corporal Punishment: Re-Examined, Journal of Instructional Psychology; June 1, 2002; Andero, Abraham A. Stewart, Allen

Corporal punishment-related ocular injuries in Nigerian children.(Original Article)(Medical condition overview)(Clinical report), Journal of Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons; April 1, 2007; Oluwakemi, Adegbehingbe Kayode, Ajite

Corporal punishment can lead to abuse; Legalised violence against children is no solution, writes Samantha Waterhouse.(News), The Mercury (South Africa); November 28, 2007

Parental Entitlement and Corporal Punishment, Law and Contemporary Problems; March 22, 2010; Dwyer, James G.

2012: Revisiting the Issue of Corporal Punishment in Our Nation’s Schools, Pediatric Nursing; September 1, 2012; Rollins, Judy A.

The Predictors of Parental Use of Corporal Punishment, Family Relations; January 1, 2007; Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew Otis, Melanie D.


Corporal Punishment in State Statute Topics

Introduction to Corporal Punishment (State statute topic)

The purpose of Corporal Punishment is to provide a broad appreciation of the Corporal Punishment legal topic. Select from the list of U.S. legal topics for information (other than Corporal Punishment).


Further Reading

Corporal Punishment: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Corporal Punishment. This part provides references, in relation to Corporal Punishment, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Corporal Punishment by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Corporal Punishment and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Corporal Punishment or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Corporal Punishment and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Corporal Punishment. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Corporal Punishment should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Corporal Punishment when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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