The Folsom Experiment
By Jordan Riak
October 11, 2010

I often hear proponents of physical punishment of children argue that unspanked children are fodder for the prison system. Their reasoning goes something like this: "If you don't spank them when they're little, they're headed for big trouble later. Spare the rod today, and you'll visit them in prison tomorrow."

This reminds me of a little experiment I did many years ago when I taught inmates in the Pre-Release Program at California State Prison, Folsom. I'd invite each new group of men to listen to my description of a childhood experience, and indicate by a show of hands if it painted a true picture of childhood as they remembered it. Here's what I said:

"I want you to listen very closely to the following description, and raise your hand if it's accurate:

"When you were a child, you knew that your body was your own private, personal property. Nobody not parents, grandparents, babysitters, big brothers, big sisters, school teachers, neighbors, absolutely nobody – had the right to hit you, spank you, whip you, belt you, slap you, punch you, or smack you. Your personal boundries were respected. You knew you were safe. If this truly describes your childhood experience, please raise your hand."

I scaned the men's faces while they pondered my question. They looked at me, and I looked at them. We waited. Not one hand went up. The results were always the same.

I did the identical experiment at the Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, and got the same results.

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