Opinion · Personal · Politics

The Death Penalty – What’s Your View?

Capital punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom in part because of the case of Timothy Evans, an innocent man who was hanged in 1950.

There’s been a lot of talk about the death penalty floating about in the last few months, due to some horrible world events being beamed at us through the news. The Boston Bombers, the Woolwich murderers, the start of the April Jones murder trial. I’ve seen a lot of slogans and pictures on Facebook that suggest that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes should be put to death (which is a moot point in all but the case of the Boston Bombers, because although Massachusetts isn’t a death penalty state, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being charged for Federal crimes which carry the death penalty regardless of where they are committed) but I wonder if the people calling for death and baying for more blood have really thought it through?

Firstly, could you say without a shadow of a doubt, that you could be the person to administer the lethal injection, flip the switch on an electric chair or gas chamber? Sure, you don’t have to, you aren’t the executioner, but surely if you call for death you should have the courage of your convictions? Could you look a human being in the eye with 100% certainty of their guilt and send them to their grave? I’m not sure I could.

Secondly, I struggle massively with the thought of how flawed our legal system can be. I have huge respect for police officers who enforce our laws and criminal lawyers who do their best to secure convictions, but there have been cases of innocent men and women being incarcerated. Imagine if we’d excuted Barry George, the man wrongly convicted of killing Jill Dando, who spent SEVEN years in prison before evidence proved him innocent? And what about Timothy Evans, a man whose wrongful hanging was the very reason that Capital Punishment was abolished in the UK?

Another thing that bothers me is this; I firmly believe that execution is still based on religious doctrine, the concept that a person will meet their judgement in the afterlife and spend eternity burning in hell. This is simply not an idea I subscribe to, so from my point of view, killing a criminal is releasing them from life and therefore the consequences of their actions.

I’m not saying that the system of incarceration is perfect; it puts a huge strain on governments, the rate of recidivism is ridiculously high with most crimes and, if the media is anything to go by, prison is less of a punishment these days with gyms, libraries and access to video games. But I’m not sure that I agree with the death penalty either.

From a very personal place, a real hot button for me is the issue of paedophilia. I recall a few years ago watching a Louis Theroux documentary based in a maximum security prison in the USA which contained some of the most dangerous sex offenders in the country and they were running a programme of rehabilitation which claimed to be able to ‘cure’ people of paedophilia and used voluntary castration as a means of removing urges. I firmly, strongly, wholly believe that there is NOTHING that can be done to cure a paedophile, so if these people are to remain a persistent danger to children, what’s the point of allowing them to remain on the planet? But, again, could you be the one to flick the switch?

I’d be curious to hear your opinions on this; it’s one of those subjects that I go back and forth on and never seem to come to any sort of conclusion about and I don’t know if I ever will, but I’d love to know where you stand on the issue.

11 thoughts on “The Death Penalty – What’s Your View?

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  2. I honestly have no idea where I stand on it. There are crimes that are committed that cause that knee-jerk reaction of “I wish we had the death penalty” but I know that it’s not proven to deter criminals and it’s totally wrong to take a life. So I don’t know really. But I do think prisons should be tougher!

  3. There should be different sort of penalties for different crimes! The more severe the crime the more severe the punishment should be. As was said before a blank cell, bland food, no privileges whatsoever and seriously hard labour all day every day! Drills like in basic training at the army. You never know if and when you’ll be woken up during the night for some light exercise! Brussels can go away with all their ” convicted criminals have human rights too” really? are you going to explain to a mother who lost her daughter that her killer has access to medical care much more easily than her, has a balanced diet and can have access to higher education and basically lives a reasonably cushy life? That is one of the things that is wrong with this country!

  4. The death penalty debate is always going to be an emotive one and I always try to join these debates from as objective a view point as possible. Firstly Jayne this is an interesting read which opens up many other areas of potential discussion, which I would like to add to the debate.

    Firstly in response to the recent media frenzy in the wake of Boston, Woolwich and April Jones, I think it needs to be said that reasonable dialogue on these matters, including the reactionary cries for the death penalty, need to take place after the dust has settled from these events. The media has a huge role to play in creating and informing public discourse and in my view certain sections of the mass media have behaved outrageously in creating folk devils and moral panics in the aftermath of these events from stirring up extreme right wing racist lunatics to the discussion of the death penalty.

    As you rightly said, in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the Boston bombings, this will fall under the legislature of U.S. federal law which can supersede state law and impose the death penalty should they decide the crime fits the bill. Obviously in the Boston case, we are dealing with both murder and what the United Nations would consider an act of international terrorism, with the U.S. being the biggest player at the U.N. table. International terrorism falls under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, meaning wherever in the world it takes place, the United Nations Security Council can interject and dish out penalties, including death, for these crimes.

    Now personally I am against the death penalty for several reasons. My main reason being who gives another human being the right to destroy another human being?
    The ethical implications are huge and as you said, its very easy for the baying mobs to stand outside U.S. prisons shouting and waving their signs, whilst someone else flicks the switch for them.
    But under no circumstances does somebody have the jurisdiction to decide that someone else should die, in my opinion. There is no divine argument in this either. Religion leaves the debate before it enters the room as we are aware that it is a human construct and no legal or political decision should be made on the basis that we believe it is Gods will. Bringing God into legislation like this makes a mockery of reasoning, logic and structured debate to achieve sustainable policy and only reinforces the need for states to remain secular.

    I am also against the death penalty on the grounds that very few convictions are based on 100% evidence proving a case either way. It would be a catastrophic step backwards for human rights the world over if we allowed ourselves to return the death penalty and then later were found to be executing innocent people, which as you point out was rife in the past use of the death penalty.

    And finally on the subject of paedophilia, I fully understand the emotive nature of this topic. I couldn’t sit here writing this and assure you or myself that in the event of someone molesting or killing a member of my family, that I would not take matters into my own hands. I can’t say because I’ve thankfully not been in those shoes.
    I too saw the program with Louis Theroux, as uncomfortable as it made me. From an objective point of view paedophilia is barely understood in scientific and biological terms. Why does it take place? Is it a sexual orientation? Can it be stopped? Science doesn’t yet have those answers, though I can understand peoples reactions to it. I personally think that the act of sexual deviance upon a child is worse than murder. As is rape in my view. People have to live with those events and the legal solution is not an easy decision to make.

    In closing, I do feel that our prison system is too soft and whilst we have to pay to keep people there through our taxes, I would rather do that than become a state sponsored murderer myself and have my taxes contribute to death chambers. In the case of rape, paedophilia and murder, life should be life as punishment for the lives and innocence lost. And the conditions should not be comfortable either. Get them laying roads, railways etc to put something back into the society they have chosen to damage.

  5. I always said I was vehemently against the death penalty until I was asked to consider how I’d feel if my child had been murdered or seriously harmed by someone else and it was completely indisputable. I would be able to be the one who pushed the button in that case.
    I think that there will always be human error, and for that reason it probably will never be appropriate to ‘bring back the death penalty’, but I can think of plenty of other punishments used around the world that I’d happily put in place instead….

  6. I could never agree with the death penalty, for all the reasons you give. Ultimately it just feels wrong to me to punish the taking of a life with the taking of a life. I know people talk of it as a deterrent but I’m not convinced of that either. The suicide rate of full term lifers would suggest death is preferable to spending the rest of their life incarcerated.

  7. I don’t know if I agree with the death penalty or not, too many innocent people have been wrongly convicted, Could I take another life, never say never, if someone committed a heinous crime against my child, all bets are off.
    I don’t agree with how “cushy” life on the inside appears, it seems wrong that victims or family and friends of victims pay towards the upkeep of individuals who cause so much pain and devastation to their loved ones.
    There is no easy solution for a suitable punishment to fit the crime, what some would demand death penalty for, others would disagree, perhaps as Sonya suggests, a life inside with no privileges would be a start.

    1. I’m inclined to agree with you, it’s hard to know unless you’re in that position. Hard labour would be my first thought too, breaking rocks for the rest of their days.

  8. I don’t agree with the death penalty. I do not want it on my conscience, and I could not push the button myself, so why should I expect someone to do it on my behalf. For certain crimes however the perpetrator should never be released. No TV, no days out. Just a blank cell, bland food, and walking round a courtyard once a day. No priveleges. That would be hell enough.

    1. I agree, that or hard labour, literally breaking rocks for 16 hours a day. Certainly wouldn’t be an easy way out then.

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