Problems of Definition
Corporal punishment is a misleadingly familiar term, in that it suggests a group of penal measures that is distinct from others. In practice, few punishments are not corporal. That is to say, most licit penalties – now as in the past – can involve bodily damage, brief or lasting physical alteration, or simply mild, acute, or chronic pain, even if they are not ostensibly violent or designed to be painful or generally consequential to an offender's body. The slippery slope can begin from auspicious places. In the Netherlands, for instance, recent legislation obligates DUI offenders above a certain category to install so-called alcohol locks in their cars, gadgets that can determine both before and during driving what a person's blood/alcohol level is, and disable the ignition accordingly. As a control apparatus to avoid recidivism and indeed as a penal measure causing some discomfort, the alcohol key seems apt. In practice, however, the tube through which drivers must blow appears to be rather sensitive. According to one complaint, traces of cigarettes, fruit, and even ice cream may prevent the car from starting or cause it to stop, thereby imposing a much broader corporal regime than the law intended.
The unintended physical consequences of the Dutch program are far from unique. Take monetary fines, by far the most common form of punishment at present (and were it to denote the full range of economic sanctions, including the confiscation or destruction of property, it would constitute the most prevalent form of punishment in human history). Fines are meant to hurt a culprit's pocket, sometimes even dramatically. But it is easy to imagine how parting with a substantial sum of money might have health implications, such as limited access to medical care (especially when health insurance is not mandatory), an imbalanced diet, or in extreme cases even hunger and disease. Depending on the particular circumstances of one's life, being fined even modestly could also require making certain lifestyle adjustments leading to increased health risks, such as how one travels, how much one works and in what kind of environment, and of course where one lives. Other dangers could be even further removed from the punishment itself but no less clear and present, for example spiraling debt and unpleasant encounters with state-, corporate-, or private collection agencies dispensing offers you cannot refuse.