Columns

The case for resuming hanging

By EWIN JAMES

Tuesday, February 05, 2013    

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The year has just begun and so have murders begun in earnest. From all indications they will be as numerous and as brutal as Jamaicans have come to expect.

Among murders reported are those of two infants: Rushane Burford, four, said to have been shot by a man having a dispute with his grandmother; and Imani Green, eight, a British subject — she was shot in Falmouth last month.

Police have since listed Marlon McMillian as a suspect in Burford's murder. The day before Rushane Burford was murdered, the body of a 14-year-old student was discovered by a roadside in Kingston. She had been murdered and dumped by her killer or killers, the police said.

Though there were slightly fewer murders last year than the year before and may be fewer this year than last year, we have no reason to believe that Jamaica will begin to become a place where the citizen's daily experience won't be the fear of being brutally killed, or menaced by some lunatic.

The sad thing is that the government seems not to have any idea of how to reduce murders and crime in general, except to hope with the rest of Jamaicans that somehow God or good sense prevails upon murderers and other criminals to abandon their enterprise. This is a pipe dream. Crime decreases only by effective measures to create economic growth and to reduce crime. This government seems unable or unwilling to implement such measures.

One it should implement now to begin to reduce murders is the the death penalty. I know there will be howls of specious protests from academics and so-called scholars that studies have proven that the death penalty doesn't deter murder; and that the UK Privy Council continues to reverse death sentences.

To the first augment I will say this: You cannot conclusively prove that executing a man doesn't deter murder for after executing a man you don't know how many more murders you may have prevented by executing that man; furthermore all that the academics and scholars in Jamaica have put froward for fighting crime have obviously failed.

As to the second argument — the UK Privy Council's rulings — I say this: Abolish all appeals to the Privy Council, as a practical and sovereign matter, because most Jamaicans want the government to resume hanging and are tired of the long wait for denials from the Privy Council; and as learned Jurist Patrick Robinson said in an article in The Gleaner on November 18 last year "there can be no justification, 50 years afterward, for maintaining a system that outsources a huge chunk of Jamaican sovereignty to a group of foreigners - please don't remind me of the practice of a Caribbean national occasionally sitting on a Privy Council case - 4,000 miles from the shores of this fair isle."

The system of justice isn't primarily about deterring crime as some people argue, but about retribution — punishing the criminal for what he/she has done. Not to punish him/her at all or to give less than is due for crime, as the humanitarian theory upon which the deterrence argument is based suggests, is an injustice to the criminal, the victim, if he/she is alive, and ultimately to society.

CS Lewis, that great thinker and scholar of Britain said in an article titled 'The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment': "Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a case."

I contend that whether or not it will deter murders, only the death penalty is the dessert for the kinds of criminals who will slaughter infants like Rushance Burford and Imani Green. Not executing them and instead having them in prison for years, being sustained by taxpayers money, however harsh prison is, is an injustice, and a denial of closure to the relatives of their victims.

One reason that the death penalty doesn't deter murder to the extent it can do so is the long interval between conviction and execution. In that long time, society can fail to discern a connection between the crime and the punishment. And criminals can befome less fearful of execution knowing that if even they are convicted, they'll live up to another 20 years before their day of reckoning. They could even escape from prison. I submit that the government limit the time between conviction and execution to no longer that five years — all appeals must be made during that time.

I am no scholar or scientist, but I believe that the death penalty will deter murders in Jamaica for two reasons among many.

Firstly, many of the murderers in Jamaica are repeat offenders. They commit a murder and move on to commit others; sometimes they even escape from prison and kill again. Therefore, executing them will reduce murders by rendering them unable to murder in future.

Secondly, most people, even the most callous murderers, fear death, and some will think twice about killing if they know that they will be executed. But as things are in Jamaica, many of them are emboldened to kill for they know they won't be hanged, maybe not even caught; or if caught they may escape from prison. Hanging them deprives them of these opportunities.

Finally, some people also say that we should abolish the death penalty because sometimes innocent persons are executed; which is saying that since the system of justice isn't perfect we should discard a vital part of it. This argument is nonsensical, for there is no perfect system anywhere in the world.

What sensible people do is improve vital things, not discard them. With the advent of DNA evidence and better investigative tools, the chance of executing an innocent person decreases daily.

To let things continue as they are today is to guarantee one thing: Jamaica will continue to be one of the most bloody places on earth.

Ewin James is a freelance journalist who lives in Florida.

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