Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Death penalty deters crime? Evidence is to the contrary!

Published in Guardian
12 July 2010 • 467 words

In his capacity as acting Prime Minister, Jack Warner last Wednesday declared, “I am convinced that, were we to reinstitute hangings, which is the law of the land, it will have a dent on crime. I am convinced.”

Mr Warner did not give any basis for his conviction and, were he pressed, would find it impossible to do so. There is no country in the world where the carrying out of the death penalty has been shown to reduce crime. One notable comparison is between Canada, where the death penalty was abolished in 1976, and the United States, where it was reinstated that same year after a 10-year moratorium. American homicide rates rose after the 1976 reinstatement, while Canadian homicide rates declined after its abolition. Within the US, the state which has the most executions – Texas – also has the highest murder rate. Trinidad and Tobago, too, has its own limited example. In 1999, nine members of the Dole Chadee gang were hanged over three weekends. The following year, murders rose by 30 percent.

The problem of crime, and murder in particular, is a complex one which impinges on many aspects of society, not simply the aspect of punishment of offenders. No government can be expected to solve it overnight or completely. Mr Warner’s statement is yet another example of politicians pursuing policy which is not based on either proof or principle. Moreover, the Ag PM is ordering the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, to essentially find ways around the law, by saying T&T should “free ourselves from these international organisations”. Mr Warner’s erstwhile colleague Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj did so doing his stint as AG, thus creating international opprobrium for T&T. Recourse to the death penalty, and insistence by politicians on its use, can only be a means of exploiting the popular ignorance and desperation at mounting crime and violence, by pandering to the most primitive instincts for the purpose of keeping political power, and giving the impression of tackling crime despite the lack of long-term planning and commitment needed for this purpose.

The death penalty has been condemned by all international human rights organisations, and is on the decrease worldwide. In nations where capital punishment has been abolished, politicians have done so for several reasons: (1) executing criminals does not reduce crime rates; (2) since no justice system is perfect, innocent persons will be executed; (3) executions are cruel.

It appears none of these considerations apply to the Members of Parliament in this country. It is particularly disturbing that the present government, despite having announced itself as a new departure in the politics of the nation, has so quickly fallen into this trap, thereby showing itself to be little different from its predecessors when it comes to basing public policy on rational, empirical, and ethical grounds.

T&T Humanist Association

See TT Humanist Statement on the Death Penalty (2008)

See TT Humanist Statement on the Death Penalty (2007)

See TT Humanist Statement on the Death Penalty (2005)

See There is no correlation between religion and ethics

See World Humanist Day 2009 - Importance of empiricism and ethics in public policy

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