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Prison paddling, New York State, 1880s

from "Prison Methods in New York State" by Philip Klein

Columbia University Press, New York, 1920




Punishment by paddling was administered in the guardroom. The paddles were made of two thicknesses of sole leather stitched at the edges, which were three to four inches wide on the blade, and, with the twisted handles of the same material, were about twenty eight inches long. The blows by means of such paddles were inflicted on the bare flesh of the buttocks of the subject, who was in position bent across a frame called a chair or horse with his face downward, his feet encased in fixed shoes at the base on one side, his arms secured by wristlets attached to a bar about one foot from the ground on the other side, and his thighs and back fastened with leather straps. This, or a similar device, was formerly used in other prisons.

Though the number of blows was kept under thirty, perhaps, in the majority of cases it was not an extraordinary occurrence in which a prisoner received forty or fifty blows; and among the particular cases in evidence it is proved that one convict received one hundred blows on one occasion since the said order was issued enjoining any and all paddling, to wit, in the year 1885; and another prisoner in the month prior to the issue of the said injunction, to wit, December 1882, and within a period of ten days was subjected to five different paddlings, receiving on each of two given days over 200 blows. Each of the two subjects of the paddling here specified was insane. The late prison physician, who was in office until the spring of 1889, was present at both these punishments, and advocated one and consented to the other, though by statute he had authority and it was his duty to prevent them.

Another case of paddling occurred in the fall of December, 1890, on the charge of feigning insanity; for which the warden, on reporting the same to the Superintendent of State Prisons, was by him reprimanded, as appears by the records in his office. The first Superintendent of State Prisons obtained the impression that the number of blows never exceeded thirty. If the punishment should be assumed to be legal and right, the proper maximum limit would be five to ten blows, as the evidence shows.

These three modes of punishment, respectively, by paddling, by pulleys and by process of one wrist, were frequent, being, besides many lesser punishments, on the average several in one week, and in the great majority of cases for failure in work.

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