Death penalty

Five reasons to end the death penalty

We are attaching the recent post issued by RightsInfo which gives 5 reasons to end the death penalty.  There is a rising tide of executions around the world as the recent Amnesty report makes clear with China the country which leads the world (if ‘lead’ be the appropriate word) in executing the greatest number which it keeps a secret.  Saudi Arabia and Iran are also major executioners often in barbaric circumstances.

Our local group produces a monthly report and these can be found on this site.

Briefly, the Rights Info report, entitled: 5 Reasons the UK is Trying to Stamp Out the Death Penalty Worldwide, says that the death penalty:

  1. will often execute the innocent.  We have documented many instances on this site where for various reasons, the wrong person has been executed.  Once done, it cannot be undone
  2. is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and often involves people incarcerated for decades under threat of execution
  3. it has no effect on crime rates, indeed there are more murders in those states in the United States where capital punishment is used
  4. it damages international crime fighting because we cannot extradite individualswhere there is the risk of someone being executed

[we were unable to find a fifth in the report]

5 Reasons the UK is Trying to Stamp Out the Death Penalty Worldwide – RightsInfo copy (pdf)

One thought on “Death penalty

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  1. I think it’s important to look at the arguments that someone in favour of the death penalty would use against these reasons for abolishing it:

    1 – this is one of the most difficult to counter for those in favour of DP. It is undoubtedly true that innocent people have indeed been executed. But someone might argue that this is a reason for doing more to ensure that the right person is convicted by, for example, having a higher standard of proof in the case of murder and ensuring sufficient time to appeal. I have actually seen this argument made. The danger of this argument against the death penalty is that it carries less and less weight as judicial systems become fairer and less prone to making mistakes. Still, you could argue that there will never come a time when the judicial system is infallible so the argument against the death penalty holds.
    2 – for some people at least it is not the ultimate, cruel and degrading treatment and decide they would rather die than spend decades in prison (Shipman is an obvious example). And some might argue that the convicted murderer should be executed swiftly rather than spend so much time under threat of execution. The counter to this is that the death penalty is such a serious punishment that people must be allowed to appeal against it, which feeds into the argument about ensuring the right people are executed. So, those people who are for the death penalty but who a) want to reduce mistakes by allowing sufficient time for appeals and b) want to reduce the cruelty of the time spent on death row are in danger of contradicting themselves. And we’ve already seen that it is not possible to say that the judicial system will ever become infallible. And even if some people would rather die than spend years in jail, that probably doesn’t apply to most people, so, ultimately, I think this argument against DP is persuasive.
    3 – this argument is only persuasive to those people who believe that the purpose of punishment is to deter (utilitarian). I suspect that most people who are in favour of the DP are deontologists or Kantians; that is they believe that people should be punished simply in virtue of the fact that they have committed a crime, whether or not it acts as a deterrence. This is an argument that those against DP rarely confront. It can be undermined, I think, because it is a circular argument – the crime is defined in terms of the punishment and the punishment is defined in terms of the crime so there is no normative throughput. Still, we should be aware that for some people deterrence is not relevant.
    4 – this is probably the weakest argument against DP. Presumably, those in favour of DP would simply respond by saying that we should not be opposed to it. At which point the arguments above would come into play.


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