I have recently blogged on a number of occasions about the Death Penalty (China executing…well, anyone really). The discussions and comments that have followed have thrown up some basic myths that I will spend a small amount of time trying to counter. The list is pretty long but I have tried to pick out some of the most common accusations thrown at anti-death penalty campaigners.
1) The Death Penalty acts as a strong deterrent to violent crime.
In the US, states that still have the death penalty have a higher murder rate (per population) than states that have abolished the death penalty. The deterrent argument assumes that a criminal will have thought about the punishment and decided that a long-term prison sentence is acceptable while execution is not. This ignores the reality that most violent crimes are committed spontaneously leaving little possibility for the punishment to affect the decision process. The idea that someone was going to undertake a stabbing but then thought better of it after hearing that this might result in his execution is laughable.
2) The Death Penalty is legitimate because most people support it
History is littered with examples where fundamental human rights violations have occurred with the support of a population. Slavery, racial segregation and voting in New Labour in 2005 all had strong public support, but we would look back now and state that these actions were wrong.
This does not tackle the issue however of why people support the death penalty. It appears that people do not support the death penalty per se, more a desire to be free from crime (holding the view that the death penalty will lead them to this condition). If politicians can be shown to be tough on crime and to be tackling the causes of crime (I am aware I sound a bit like Tony Blair) then I think the public support for the death penalty would drop. Indeed, a poll in the US showed that when life imprisonment was offered as an alternative option to the death penalty, support for the punishment dropped from 68% to 48%.
3) The Death Penalty is the most cost effective way of dealing with nasty criminals. Why should we pay for murders to be kept inside a cell for the rest of their lives?
The number of prisoners condemned to death compared to prison populations in tiny. In the US for example, prison population is about 2.2 million, and those sentenced to death make up about 3,000. Cost to the tax payer? If you are worried about this issue, start campaigning for alternatives to prison (especially in relation to mental illness). This would save the tax payer more than executing a few hundred (or thousand in China’s case).
The Death Penalty remains an out-dated ineffectual form of punishment. In Europe it is slowly dying out (with only Belarus still practising), but across the word there are still many regimes that you would not expect undertaking it. Countries that still retain the death penalty are:
Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States Of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Want to know more from some experts? Have a look at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty