Don't Panic

Does the death penalty now make sense?

death-penaltyIs the death penalty still a bad idea? The Republican Party don't think so as they all cheered rapturously when candidate Gov. Rick Perry's record tally of sending 234 prisoners to their deaths was mentioned at a GOP debate last week. The question alone caused the audience to applaud and Perry had them eating out of his hand by promising more "ultimate justice."  Sound politics as the previous record executioner from Texas made it all the way to the White House.

Luckily we don't live in Texas, where they own around 51 million guns (more than all of the European Union combined) and the Encyclopedia Britannica is banned because it contains a formula for making beer, however that hasn't prevented suggestions that we could benefit from some of their judicial wisdom, especially concerning the administration of the death penalty.

The issue was back in the headlines in early August when blogger Paul Staines started a campaign to get people to sign an e-petition to force Parliament to debate the issue. If 100,000 people sign by February next year it will trigger a debate in Parliament. So far 20,000 have signed and perhaps they have a point.

Steven Grisales, was a 21-year-old Argentinean student who was stabbed to death for asking people to stop throwing conkers at him. The people who killed him were pelting him with conkers for no reason, so it wasn't like he started throwing them at them and they stabbed him in self-defence, they provoked him and then murdered him. Is there a place in society for people like this?

A 15-year-old boy has appeared in court charged with the murder along with three other people, including a 19-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl. Everyone makes mistakes in their youth but is murder the sort of slip-up that society shouldn't forgive, and what sort of future contributions will this quartet of killers make to the society that is going to have to pay to rehabilitate them? That is if they are rehabilitated at all after spending a lengthy sentence in a crime school…I mean prison system which the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke explained fails to reform criminals. He also revealed that three quarters of adult rioters convicted for their illegal supermarket sweeps had previous convictions (although it is unclear whether they were custodial sentences.)

Utilitarianism is the theory that the best course of action is the one that maximises the good in society, so laws should be formed that benefit the most people, therefore in an overcrowded, indebted country perhaps an eye for an eye makes more sense than the alternatives. While we're talking ethical theory, religion doesn't seem to provide the answers as most of the hang 'em high posse in Texas would describe themselves as Christians yet in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught forgiveness and instructed his disciples to "turn the other cheek."

After the initial burst of publicity for the death penalty petition the campaign has ground to a halt with a rival petition, calling for the ban on the death penalty to be retained, gaining about 8,000 signatures more. Perhaps this is because it makes more sense when you consider the following points, with my additions in italics: '…that only 58 nations currently use capital punishment and they are mostly dicey dictatorships like Iran and China….the death penalty is un-retractable in incidents of miscarriages of justice so when the police make one of their innumerable cock-ups there's no way back… also the death penalty does not reduce crime or act as a deterrent. In the US states which practice capital punishment incidents of homicide are higher than US states which do not.'