A modern concept of justice, suited to the 1962 teen-age delinquent, was discussed yesterday by the man known as "the barber judge of Whiting, Ind."
City Judge William Obermiller has been sentencing young drinkers and drag racers to such unusual punishment as public spanking in open court.
Some with beautifully groomed hair are sentenced to have their heads shaved, others to get military style haircuts.
Those wilfully destructive of city property are sentenced to clean up Lake Michigan beaches.
Those contemptuous of legal authority are sentenced to copy the Constitution of the United States in longhand.
Obermiller, who was elected in 1960 to a term which still has two years to run, today explained the thinking behind his punishments:
"One cause of delinquency is the easy money available to teen-agers. A fine means nothing. A public spanking embarrasses them."
So when three youths came before Obermiller Thursday, charged with drinking beer and apricot brandy on the Whiting beach on June 18, the judge sentenced each to 15 solid whacks on the seat of the pants.
First, the judge asked for permission of the parents of Steve Schorr, 16, of 1600 Ohio St., Whiting; Peter Welcome, 17, of 4310 Ash av., Hammond, and James Hunt, 16, of 2105 Scrage av., Whiting.
Then each youth in turn was compelled to bend over, place his hands on the court table, and accept 15 hearty whacks administered by two enthusiastic policemen and a court bailiff. Obermiller said:
"A lad today puts so much emphasis on the word 'chicken' that he would be cocky if sent to jail. He cannot be cocky when held up to the ridicule of his buddies and 250 people crowded into the courtroom."
WHITING, Ind., July 6. -- (AP) -- Three youths, among nine who were given unusual punishments by City Judge Obermiller last night, were spanked by two policemen and a bailiff.
Each youth got 15 solid whacks, as ordered by the judge. They stood before the judge as the policeman and a court bailiff administered the spankings with their hands on the seats of the teenager's pants.
Some 250 persons who jammed the courtroom witnessed the spankings given to Steve Shorr, 16, Peter Welcome, 17, and James Hunt, 16.
The three youths who were spanked were also ordered to have their hair cut not more than a half inch high and assigned them to help clean up Whiting's beach each Saturday until Labor Day. They will be joined at the beach by five other youths who received similar sentences from the judge last Tuesday and two others last night.
A dozen teen-agers played a reluctant game of pick-up-sticks along the beach at Whiting, Ind., yesterday, under the stern gaze of policemen.
The boys, all with fresh crew cuts, will be back playing the same game each Saturday until Labor Day, according to City Judge William Obermiller.
Obermiller, who said he was tired of seeing wild teen-agers coddled by the courts, last week ordered the closely cropped haircuts and sentenced the youths to clean up the beach as a result of brawling, drinking, and wild driving.
At 9 a.m. yesterday the teen-agers along with their parents, lined up in front of the Whiting police station for the march to the beach and another stern lecture by Obermiller.
The judge told the subdued and contrite offenders they will find reimposed 60 days suspended jail sentences if they go about their clean up job as a lark.
The treatment meted out by the judge drew almost unanimous approbation from the crowd of several hundred that lined the beach to watch the youths begin their chores.
The girl friend of one of the boys was in agreement.
"He's not a bad boy, really," she said. "But I think he got what he deserved this time. I believe he's learned his lesson and won't be such a wise guy in the future."
San Francisco News Call Bulletin, 9 July 1962
Ridicule as a Weapon Against Rowdy Youth
By Guy Wright
My personal hero of the month is that judge back in Indiana who prescribed public spankings for three teenaged troublemakers.
Over the bailiff's knee with them, he ordered, and 15 solid whacks on the seat of the pants.
It was a great leap backward to commonsense, a magnificently executed rear attack upon the much discussed problem of juvenile delinquency.
These puling punks had got themselves plastered on beer and apricot brandy -- for mixing those two, ANYBODY deserves to be spanked -- and they had created a four-alarm nuisance at the town beach.
In San Francisco, you know what would have happened. When they finished kicking the cops on the shins, we'd have turned them over to the Juvenile Court, where an army of psychologists, guidance counselors and probation officers would have worked overtime trying to understand them.
But in Whiting, Ind., the good Judge Obermiller fortunately has escaped infection by our peculiar enlightenment. One by one, he ordered the boys turned over the bailiff's knee for treatment by woodshed psychology.
The fact that 250 people crowded into the courtroom to witness the spankings would seem to indicate that the public is more than ready for a return to the old-time religion -- at least, to that part which says, "Spare the rod and spoil the child."
"It takes a kid to make a mistake," the judge said. "But it takes a man to take his punishment."
Perhaps that was the bravest part of all. The judge came right out and said "punishment" -- that horrid word which the experts on criminology are trying to banish from our thinking. They prefer to talk about "rehabilitation", as though rehabilitation and punishment are contradictory terms.
My grandfather used to rehabilitate me regularly with a few well-applied strokes of his razor strap.
But there are more than a few teenagers who deliberately defy the law as a way to impress their peers. They do it to attract attention, to gain esteem with the rest of the gang, to elevate themselves in the eyes of some silly girlfriend who is fascinated by dimestore desperadoes.
But a spanking -- that's something they readily understand. It's humiliating. The youngster who has been spanked becomes the butt of jokes within the very group he's trying to impress.
Once his gang and his girlfriend have seen him turned over the bailiff's knee, it's pretty difficult for our young rebel to pose as the defiant hero. He might as well hang up his black leather jacket, because he's been reduced to what he really is -- a naughty child.
Reader's Digest, May 1963 (Condensed from THE LION, May 1963)
Whiting Doesn't Spare the Rod
An unusual judge shows youthful offenders that "there is no glamour in trouble"
By Karl Detzer
THE BAILIFF rapped for order in city court of the small industrial community of Whiting, Ind. Judge William Obermiller glanced at the eight youths, aged 15 to 20, whose names led the docket. They were slouched in a defiant row. Police had arrested them at a beer party on the town's Lake Michigan beach just as they began an unprovoked attack on three passersby. All the boys had records of minor delinquency -- loitering, truancy and fighting. Their friends sat in the back of the court, grinning, waiting to see the defendants put this judge in his place.
On the bench. Judge Obermiller studied their soiled records, then their soiled faces. Brassily, they returned his look. All of the boys, he observed, wore black leather jackets with broad belts, combs sticking out of breast pockets like badges, long, greasy ducktail haircuts.
"These defendants are not prepared for trial," the judge announced at last. "Bailiff, take them to a barber."
Across the street, two barbers started snipping to Judge Obermiller's specifications. "Make them short," he directed. "Make them GI."
Judge Obermiller first received notice outside his own community last year when the juvenile court referred to him four boys, two 16, one 15, one 17, charged with fighting, hit-and-run with a borrowed car, and being drunk in public. After the quartet had swaggered into court, the 15-year-old insolently leaned an elbow on the bench, pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and spoke sharply to the judge. "Okay," he said. "What's the fine? How much do you want?"
"Sit down," Obermiller directed the boy. He turned to the rest of the court. "This case is continued until next Thursday evening," he said. "And, bailiff, I want the parents of these four boys to appear here with them."
Thursday night the surly quartet again stomped up to the bench. When the youngest barked an impudent reply to the judge's first question and his mother remonstrated quietly, the son snapped at her, "Shut up!" Judge Obermiller half rose from his seat, then settled back, looking grim.
"How long since you spanked this boy?" he inquired of the father. "Never? You never spanked him?"
Then, addressing the bailiff, the judge said, "Have the officers turn the boy over and hold him, bottom-up. Then spank him -- hard -- with your bare hand. Give him 15 whacks. Maybe that will teach him not to sass his mother."
While the policemen held the squirming youth, the bailiff spanked as directed. Judge Obermiller glanced around the courtroom. The young ruffians who had come to see their gang hero put the law in its place were sneaking quietly away.
The four boys answered questions respectfully the rest of that evening. They were put on probation, ordered to report regularly to the judge. According to Whiting school superintendent G.O. Burman, three of these four are "showing great scholastic improvement and are settling down, causing no trouble in their classes." The fourth boy has moved away, and Whiting has no report on his progress.
Fall 1962: They Call Me The Spanking Judge, by Hon. W.J. Obermiller
16 August 2000: Obituary: William J. Obermiller, 77, 'Spanking Judge' of 1960s