N Touch
Tuesday 17 September 2019
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Commentary

Mr Death Penalty, where are you?

PHILBERT GERVAIS

ON DECEMBER 31, 2018, TT had 516 recorded murders – the highest since 2008 when 550 murders were recorded.

Then in one week, July 14-20, we experienced 24 murders. As of July 27 there have been 312 recorded murders – more murders than days in the calendar year.

We stand out with this heinous murder statistic. The murder rate per capita in TT, reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is 31 per 100,000 people, placing the country at 11th in the world and sixth in the Caribbean.

This issue of the escalating homicide rate and mechanisms to ameliorate it are multi-faceted. While the issue of depleting the homicide rate involves a multi-dimensional approach where some tools (such as moral education, more vocational programmes, increasing the social responsibility of the denominational churches, increasing temporary relief programmes, looking at proper rehabilitation programmes that are geared to minimising repeat offenders, mentoring programmes) will assist in the long term, we must look at what is required now given a most horrendous and unspeakable murder rate.

New York state with over 20 million people has a far lower homicide rate that TT has had for the longest time. Imagine from 2002 to 2009, we had over 3,000 homicides.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is again calling on many OAS states to abolish the death penalty or at least have a moratorium in its application.

This call may not be the best at this time in our country’s life as we have seen that there are more murders than calendar days at the time. The situation is worsening and the reality is we need to act now with the fastest deterrent possible.

Many human rights advocates vehemently and vociferously want the abolition of the death penalty and deem it inhumane and barbaric. I ask, is it humane to stab someone multiple times, slit their throat, and dismember their parts?

Do we remember the names Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, Chuck Attin, our very own Lincoln Guerra who repeatedly raped a young woman, stabbed her, slit her throat, then burned her four-month-old baby with a cigarette before also killing him, and slit her husband’s throat in Wallerfield, who survived?

The death penalty is the law of TT and one would recall that in the Constitutional (Amendment) (Capital Offences Bill) that was brought by the then government in 2012, it initially had categorisation of murders similar to what obtains in the US. The opposition objected to this so the government decided to remove the categorisation of murders and kept the death penalty for all murders.

Research has shown that experts and empirical data support the death penalty. It is currently enforced in the US, and a substantial body of research has been done in that country to support the deterrence effect.

Emory University Economics Department chairman Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Emory Professors Paul Rubin and Joanna Shepherd stated in 2003 that “our results suggest that capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect. An increase in any of the probabilities – arrest, sentencing or execution – tends to reduce the crime rate. In particular, each execution results, on average, in 18 fewer murders – with a margin of error of plus or minus ten.”

Their data base used nationwide data from 3,054 US counties from 1977 to 1996.

In 2003 University of Colorado (Denver) Economics Department chairman Naci Mocan and graduate assistant R Kaj Gottings found “a statistically significant relationship between executions, pardons and homicide. Specifically, each additional execution reduces homicides by five to six, and three additional pardons (commutations) generate one to 1.5 additional murders.”

Their data set contains detailed information on the entire 6,143 death sentences between 1977 and 1997.

SUNY (Buffalo) Professor Liu in 2001 found that legalising the death penalty not only adds capital punishment as a deterrent but also increases the marginal productivity of other deterrence measures in reducing murder rates.

“Abolishing the death penalty not only gets rid of a valuable deterrent, it also decreases the deterrent effect of other punishments. The deterrent effects of the certainty and severity of punishments on murder are greater in retentionist (death penalty) states than in abolition (non-death penalty) states.”

The Federal Communications Commission (US) economist Dr Paul Zimmerman stated in 2003 that it is estimated that each state execution deters somewhere between three and 25 murders a year (14 being the average).

“Assuming that the value of human life is approximately $5 million – ie the average of the range estimates provided by Viscussi (1993) – our estimates imply that society avoids losing approximately (US)$70 million per year on average at the current rate of execution all else equal.”

The study used state-level data from 1978 to 1997 for all 50 states (excluding Washington DC).

When presented with a body of research like this, it is clear that there are positive societal spinoffs from implementing the death penalty. There is even prior evidence of its effect in TT, as during the period of the 1994 Glen Ashby and 1999 Dole Chadee executions, murders fell by 24 per cent over this period, only to exponentially rise when the implicit threat of the executions being implemented subsided.

It is clear, given our current homicide levels, that we as a country need to find the common ground so that the death penalty could be immediately implemented, as it is the law of the land. This issue should not be politicised any further while innocent citizens remain under siege.

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