The case for and against capital punishment

File photo: The Port of Spain prison on Frederick Street.
File photo: The Port of Spain prison on Frederick Street.


THE CASE for capital punishment often comes up when gruesome murders like the killing of Andrea Bharatt are committed. I for one may have opposed the death penalty on religious grounds. I now may have second thoughts. There is a tendency to say “that criminal really deserves to die” as disgust, anger and genuine fear support the second thoughts.

I was motivated to do some research on the case for and against the death penalty. The arguments for the death penalty may well be compelling:

The death penalty can properly deliver justice to those who have killed others. The death penalty provides for retribution against perpetrators and makes sure that they pay for their actions. Criminals need to be held accountable for their actions. While no one enjoys the thought of having to kill someone, it can also be argued that the murderer bought the punishment on himself/herself when he/she took the life of another.

The death penalty is necessary to deter other criminals. One of the best arguments for the death penalty is that capital punishment is a huge deterrent to prevent others from committing heinous crimes. The best way to deal with crimes obviously is to stop them from happening in the first place. In turn, the best way to do that is to deter criminals from committing crimes. Criminals should be aware that if they commit a serious crime then their punishment will be equally as serious.

The death penalty is necessary to protect society. Some criminals simply cannot be allowed to keep living because every minute they are alive is another minute that they are a threat to the community. These criminals must be executed because keeping them alive puts the wider community at risk. Some criminals are simply so far gone that they are beyond help and will always be a major risk to society.

The death penalty is necessary for a family of a victim to move on properly. It is necessary because a family will never be able to feel safe or live a normal life again if they know the person who killed their family member is still alive.

The death penalty is cheaper than a lifetime prison term. One of the most controversial arguments for the death penalty is that the cost of keeping someone incarcerated for the duration of their natural life is huge. This is a cost that society shouldn’t have to pay. Violent criminals and murderers shouldn’t be taking away tax dollars from things like education and healthcare.

Notwithstanding, one must look at both sides of an argument and there are proponents for killing the death penalty. The reasons they proffer are as follows:

The death penalty is totalitarian.

The death penalty is barbaric and antiquated, regressive, cruel and unusual punishment. With all the advances in the sciences, sociology, psychology, education, technology and so on we should have more socially-effective, non-lethal, civilised techniques to punish (and rehabilitate) criminals, while protecting the rest of society.

Seeking the death penalty is quite expensive and life imprisonment can be cheaper over the lifetime of a case. Executing prisoners can be three times as expensive as life in prison, primarily due to the higher costs of capital punishment trials, automatic appeals and the heightened security on death row with lower staff-to-prisoners ratios.

The death penalty doesn’t have a deterrent factor and doesn’t decrease crime.

The death penalty is brutal on society. The brutalisation effect suggests that when violence is condoned via the death penalty, more violence occurs.

The death penalty is uncivilised. Civilised countries have banned the death penalty as have 18 US states, while the governments that maintain the death penalty are typically the more corrupt and dictatorial ones (eg China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Texas in the US).

Innocent people are on death row and innocent people have been put to death.

The death penalty is inhumane. Killing people makes us like the murderers who we despise. Christians may ask themselves “what would Christ say about the death penalty” and the very possible response is that he would oppose the killing of a human being as punishment for a crime.

When one thinks of the horror of these murders, the gruesome nature of the killings and the fear griping the land, I am inclined to defend and support bringing back the hangman.


"The case for and against capital punishment"

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