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cruel and unusual punishment

n. governmental penalties against convicted criminal defendants which are barbaric, involve torture and/or shock the public morality. They are specifically prohibited under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, nowhere are they specifically defined. Tortures like the rack (stretching the body inch by inch) or the thumbscrew, dismemberment, breaking bones, maiming, actions involving deep or long-lasting pain are all banned. But solitary confinement, enforced silence, necessary force to prevent injury to fellow prisoners or guards, psychological humiliation and bad food are generally allowed. In short, there is a large gray area, in which "cruel and unusual" is definitely subjective based on individual sensitivities and moral outlook. The U.S. Supreme Court has waffled on the death penalty, declaring that some forms of the penalty were cruel and prohibited under the Furman case (1972), which halted executions for several years, but later relaxed the prohibition. The question remains if the gas chamber, hanging or electrocution are cruel and unusual. For instance, hanging is certainly cruel but was not unusual at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted.

See also: capital punishment 

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