Against capital punishment


by Rumbold
4th August, 2011 at 10:17 am    

After a vigorous online campaign, it looks as if the return of capital punishment may be debated in parliament soon, with pressure on the government to announce a free vote. Campaigners want the death penalty restored for crimes such as the murder of police officers or children, and have the support of a number of MPs.

I have never really been convinced by the moral arguments against the death penalty. There are some who argue that executing a criminal for murder is stooping to their level. On that basis then, imprisoning a kidnapper for ten years is also stooping to their level, as they are being confined and held against their will. Nor is killing someone relatively quickly and painlessly notably more inhumane then locking them up for years in a drug-addled and violent prison, where the risk of assault is common and gangs control the situation.

What makes me opposed to capital punishment is the possibility of error. Courts and juries make mistakes. It is awful every time this happens, but it does and will continue to do so, whether because certain evidence hasn’t come to light, or the defence is poor, or because of other factors. Given that jailing an innocent is the ultimate failure of a justice system, there needs to be as many safeguards in place in rectify any such situation. If someone has been imprisoned and is later freed as a result of a miscarriage, they cannot be given those years back, but they can be compensated and be free from then on. There is no such recourse with the death penalty.

The other common argument used in favour of the death penalty is cost. Yet in America, whose legal system is largely based on the same principles as ours, the average death row prisoner spends around fourteen years there before being executed. In terms of expense, the state of California has found that is costs an extra $90,000 per prisoner per year to keep a prisoner on death role then jailed ordinarily for life without parole. Assuming similar figures for this country, the average criminal sentenced to death would therefore cost around £775,000 more than someone who is in prison for fourteen years.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  2. alien from saturn

    Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  3. James Mills

    Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  4. Mark Rowland

    Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  5. The Gadfly

    Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  6. Anna Parker

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  7. Maureen Czarnecki

    Blogged: : Against capital punishment http://bit.ly/mSLLkt


  8. Jonathan Davis

    @mortari EG: I'm unsure whether to engage with an argument such as this: http://t.co/U4HKJH8. Even if he and I do agree on the end result.




  1. Ellie Cumbo — on 4th August, 2011 at 10:33 am  

    The possibility of error is probably the weakest possible reason to oppose it since that possibility had declined substantially, though not disappeared, owing to technological advances like DNA. So that argument is a bit of a hostage to fortune.

    The most powerful reasons are to do with the role of the state in communicating the worth of human life and the limits to it’s own power. Societies with the death penalty usually have the highest levels of violent crime, and intuitively this makes sense, since they promote the idea that life can be forfeited as a punishment for wrongdoing.

    The analogy between kidnap/prison and murder/execution is a false one, which fails to acknowledge the concept of a ceiling above which a state must never go in its role of policing its citizens. For billions of people, taking away life goes well beyond this.

  2. Kulvinder — on 4th August, 2011 at 1:07 pm  

    Its a stupid idiotic argument brought up by right wing trolls (guido et al) and endorsed by the type of moronic mps (priti patel etc) who barely have the intellectual capacity to sign their own names let alone give considered opinions on the death penalty.

    The council of europe won’t allow it (and if *anyone* calls it an anti democratic institution slap them and ask them how it works); we’ve ratified protocol 13 and before anyone asks that *does* explicitly rule out any argument under article 2. Any arguments about ‘simply leaving’ the council of europe or de-ratifying protocol 13 are about as far fetched as steve hilton’s blue sky thinking. There is no case law precedent for it.

    So in short its not happening and though we can expect right wing trolls to endorse the waste of parliamentary time id have thought that members of parliament would at least have had the sense to do something better with their time.

  3. Tom O'Neill — on 4th August, 2011 at 2:14 pm  

    In California you are three times more likely to receive the death penalty if your victim was white. One of the many reasons why it is a flawed system.

    Further blog on the American model can be found at

    http://redtapeandpicnics.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/the-death-penalty-an-american-case-study/

  4. Mordaunt — on 4th August, 2011 at 2:49 pm  

    Kulvinder is quite right to say that it is a waste of parliamentary time. A cursory glance at the share of the seats in the House of Commons indicate that even if every single Tory and DUP MP vote for the DP Labour, Lib Dem, the Nats, Alliance, Greens and Lady Sylvia Hermon would command a majority. I can’t imagine that Ken Clarke would be the sole Tory voting against. (In the past disingenuous Tories would assure their bovine spongiform rank and file that they had voted with Enoch, assessing correctly that such persons would lazily assume that Enoch Powell was in favour of the death penalty and not, as it happened, against.) So we already know the outcome of the vote.

  5. Don — on 4th August, 2011 at 3:25 pm  

    Agree with Kulvider and Mordaunt. It’s cheap grandstanding, a few right-wingers make noises they think will score some easy points but they know full well nohing will come of it.

    This crops up every few years, political scavengers pretend it’s on the table but it isn’t.

    However, if it were a possibility, what would be the arguments against? Pretty much the ones that had it ended in the first place. Ellie makes a very good point about ethical issues but the danger of a wrongful conviction remains powerful despite scientific advances.

    According to this source (which I can’t verify, I’m still checking)… in England and Wales, between 1996 and 2006, 175 people accused of either murder (138) or manslaughter (37) subsequently had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal. In all these cases no retrial was ordered. Further to this, 106 (90 for murder and 16 for manslaughter) were then cleared upon retrial. This gives a total of 281 people wrongly convicted for the most serious of crimes.

    http://www.insidetime.org/articleview.asp?a=108&c=british_injustice

    Of course, not all of those would have been executed.

    Have any of these people proposed a method of execution? On of the very few things I can respect Portillo for was the Horizon programme he did a while back.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woBUtoh02ic

  6. damon — on 4th August, 2011 at 5:29 pm  

    Of course it’s a total non-issue as it’s never going to happen, but it would be good if we as a country could get beyond the way Kulvinder pitched it, as it being something only for ”right wing trolls” to get worked up by.

    It couldn’t work in the UK, because of how it would polarise the country. But many people around the world don’t have such a reaction to someone being killed by the state. Iraq for example.

    The line from Ellie Cumbo’s comment I found most interestiong is the bit about ”communicating the worth of human life”. If I understand that right, it’s the idea that the state – or anyone else, doesn’t have the right to take a life, because of how you can’t put a value on a human life. Even that of the most depraved serial killer.

    That’s certainly a valid point of view, but I wouldn’t say it has any more moral value than that of a crowd of people going to a police station in the Palestinian West Bank ten years ago and demanding that a child abuser (or killer) be handed over to them. They wanted to string him up in public. Of course it would have been barbaric, but I don’t think any less ”moral” than what we do in the UK and lock such people up for 30 years.

    It would be interesting to see the reaction if it ever came to a real change of the law on this in the UK. The people who were most passionately against it would be a sight to behold. They would play every dirty trick in the book I’m sure. Smearing everone and every argumement that was for it. With the issue of race being at the forefront. Can you imagine Lee Jasper and Operation Black Vote if there was to be a black prisoner executed? There would be trouble on the streets.

  7. Don — on 4th August, 2011 at 6:03 pm  

    But many people around the world don’t have such a reaction to someone being killed by the state. Iraq for example.

    Does that even mean something?

    Actually, a mob stringing a suspect up in public is more barbaric than trial, appeal and imprisonment. It just is. I’m happy to nail my colours to the mast on that one. And why cite Palestinians as exemplars of lynch mobs? Just the first thing that sprang to mind?

    The people who were most passionately against it would be a sight to behold. They would play every dirty trick in the book I’m sure.

    No need to wait and find out, then. You’re sure so that’s settled.

    Smearing everone and every argumement that was for it. With the issue of race being at the forefront.

    How the hell do do jump straight to this being a race issue? And assume that anyone opposed to capital punishment is a dishonest, smearing, race-baiting opportunist?

    And Damon please, please, don’t ask me to conjecture how this issue would play on that Milwall blog you fetishise as the authentic voice of the WWC and which the rest of us are too up ourselves to appreciate.

    I would be passionately opposed to it, but I wouldn’t need dirty tricks to make my point. If you favour it then be honest and say so, make your argument openly and be prepared to back it up without all the smoke-screens and chaff you generally employ.

  8. Rumbold — on 4th August, 2011 at 6:33 pm  

    Ellie:

    As Don says, there are still plenty of wrongful convictions. I agree that the state should be limited in what it can do, but to say imprisoning someone for decades is okay but killing them is wrong is a arbitrary distinction.

    Saying that having the death penalty leads to a higher murder rate is a logical fallacy, as all countries are different, so it is impossible to compare on the basis of one result (e.g. if Congo abolished the death penalty than the rate of murders in countries without the death penalty would rise).

  9. kevin — on 4th August, 2011 at 6:46 pm  

    The most interesting thing about this debate is the fear and loathing it has revealed in progressive opinion at even the smallest chance of ordinary people’s opinions influencing the policies of their government. Still smarting after that AV referendum result, eh?

  10. Don — on 4th August, 2011 at 6:51 pm  

    but to say imprisoning someone for decades is okay but killing them is wrong is a arbitrary distinction.

    Arbitary? Really? I don’t agree. The distinction between lethal and non-lethal is about as far from arbirary as you can get. Is the distinction between fining someone for littering and killing them arbitrary?

    Sure, being imprisoned for decades is pretty shitty (although not always, Scandanavian countries seem to manage to be humane and civilised about it. And I am sure that Norway will treat that bastard in the same humane and civilised manner, because that is what humane and civilised societies do.) But if you are wrongly imprisoned then you have a chance at getting out.

    Killing is the starkest line I can think of.

    Saying that having the death penalty leads to a higher murder rate is a logical fallacy,

    Of course it would be, but if the death penalty is being touted as a way of reducing the murder rate then pointing to the stats is reasonable. Then it gets complicated.

  11. Rumbold — on 4th August, 2011 at 6:57 pm  

    Don:

    Arbitary? Really? I don’t agree. The distinction between lethal and non-lethal is about as far from arbirary as you can get. To say fining someone for littering and killing them is arbitrary?

    No, but to remove someone’s freedom for decades, lock them away with no hope of release and place them in a often brutal and frightening environment (which is what the UK does at the moment), doesn’t seem to me to me to be morally superior to killing them quickly.

    But if you are wrongly imprisoned then you have a chance at getting out.

    Which is why I oppose bringing back the death penalty.

  12. Don — on 4th August, 2011 at 7:11 pm  

    Rumbold,

    But if the numbers I cited are correct,281 people in the last ten years were released because they were found to have been wrongly convicted. Not exactly no hope. Unless guilty, of course.

    often brutal and frightening environment

    Surely that is just bad management? If we don’t want our prisons to be brutal and frghtening then we have that choice. But maybe we do want that. At some level. Perhaps because, like Tertullian we relish the torments of the damned, or perhaps a masochist fantasy is involved. I wouldn’t know.

  13. Rivers — on 4th August, 2011 at 7:50 pm  

    “often brutal and frightening environment”

    It’s jail, not a nursery. If Rumbold’s moral compass is so utterly defective that he has no consideration for the the life destroying consequences suffered by the victims of these crimes and he can’t distinguish morally between execution and incarceration, perhaps he should leave the keyboard and check himself into a facility were he can get help because he’s quite damaged.

    Rummy and his socialist mates can’t fathom or tolerate the argument against capitol punishment by the State based on the incompetence and the corruptions that so often state actors gravitate toward and practice, for a Socialist it is always proper to imagine the state as a benign and beneficial entity, as opposed to what it is nothing more than a necessary evil.

    If you can’t kill someone by the state because the state is often wrong in pronouncement of guilt or innocence, many assumptions about the state’s dominance and role in other fields become questionable. As Rummbold might saw,”We must not have that.”

  14. Richard — on 4th August, 2011 at 7:55 pm  

    “Societies with the death penalty usually have the highest levels of violent crime, and intuitively this makes sense, since they promote the idea that life can be forfeited as a punishment for wrongdoing.”

    Japan? Britain before abolition? Singapore?

  15. Don — on 4th August, 2011 at 8:05 pm  

    @Rivers,

    Yeah, that commie Rumbold, there he goes again with his socialist utopian ideas. Statist authoritarian bastard that he is.

    You tell him.

  16. damon — on 4th August, 2011 at 8:07 pm  

    Don.

    If you favour it then be honest and say so, make your argument openly and be prepared to back it up without all the smoke-screens and chaff you generally employ.

    No, I don’t favour it for the UK at all. If they want to do that in Japan, that’s up to them though. I don’t really have a strong opinion on the ‘principle’ of it either way. But having more than a very small number of executions for the very worst of killers is something that I would be very much against.

    Does that even mean something?

    Only saying that people around the world have very different views of the death penalty. In Texas it’s probably quite different to Vermont as well.
    I only mentioned the thing about Palestine, as I almost attended that demonstration, in Nablus in 2000.
    I’d been passing through on my way to Jerusalem and got talking to some local people who were showing me around town. They then invited me to go with them to this political demonstration at the police station, but I didn’t fancy it. I only found out what it was about when reading a short piece about it in an Israeli newspaper the next day.
    It would have course been barbaric if the crowd had been granted their wish. They weren’t, but it obviously showed a common mood amongst a section of the population. But I don’t have any particular axe to grind on Israel/Palestine either way.

    And Damon please, please, don’t ask me to conjecture how this issue would play on that Milwall blog you fetishise as the authentic voice of the WWC…

    OK, so I tried with a bit of ameture psychology .. and it failed miserably here. Click on my name at the head of this post to see someone trying something similar with the Liverpool FC Kop in 1964. That was the Liverpool working class of 1964.

  17. Rivers — on 4th August, 2011 at 8:36 pm  

    Utopian-ism whether the socialist variety or any other is the cause of a significant number of humanities self inflicted wounds. I find those who embrace any of it’s malformed offspring usually consumed by sophomoric vanity, resentment, and startling lack of depth.

    I have no problem with the execution of those guilty of significant crime, murder and the soon to be re-included treason, with the caveat that imposition of the punishment requires an elevated burden of proof beyond even that required for conviction. There is No appeal for a dead man.

  18. Don — on 4th August, 2011 at 9:11 pm  

    Damon,

    Actually my main objection to your comment was the asumption that passionate opposition to the death penality would inevitably entail venal dishonesty and race baiting.

    But the reference to the Kop in the sixties explained it all.

    BTW, I used to wash Pop Robson’s car. For free.

  19. damon — on 5th August, 2011 at 1:20 am  

    Don, as this is never going to happen anyway, I don’t think there’s much harm in just kicking the idea around and imagining what could possibly happen if (somehow) the death penalty was set to actually be re-introduced. It could possibly make a good fantasy TV drama. Can you imagine the way it would be discussed on BBC radio Five Live for example? Throughout the day on their rolling news magazine programmes. And on Newsnight and Channel 4 News?

    It would be totally bizarre. Surely the left and the new twitter clicktavists would be going into overdrive to defeat it. All the old left and liberals would be holding huge marches.
    And to see how they would react, when like with the AV vote, they still couldn’t win the argument.

    Anyway, as I said, that’s just some fantasy scenario that flashed through my mind when I thought of it.
    The politics around it would become quite poisonous I think. What if the first person sentenced to death was some kind of minority? Black or of Pakistani origin or gay, or a woman? Or, if it was to be a white man, his family might say he was only being chosen for execution because he was a white man as they couldn’t hang an ethnic minority person, a woman or a foriegner.

    See the potential now? And being discussed day after day on these Nicky Campbell like radio phone in programmes, and the sunday morning Andrew Marr show, and the dreadful thing that comes on after it. All the talking heads would drive you crazy going on about it.

    The idea that ”White Van Man” and Guido Fawkes had scored a huge victory over the left would be very hard for people to accept. I’m sure ”Nazis” would sneak into the debate somewhere. So it’s just as well that none of this will ever happen.

  20. Ravi Naik — on 5th August, 2011 at 9:44 am  

    The politics around it would become quite poisonous I think. What if the first person sentenced to death was some kind of minority? Black or of Pakistani origin or gay, or a woman? Or, if it was to be a white man, his family might say he was only being chosen for execution because he was a white man as they couldn’t hang an ethnic minority person, a woman or a foriegner.

    I will give you credit for making up the most irrelevant argument against capital punishment.

    but to say imprisoning someone for decades is okay but killing them is wrong is a arbitrary distinction.

    Survival is a human instinct, Rumbold. Humans are programmed to stay alive. I am very against capital punishment, and against the idea that criminals should be tortured and rotten in prison – we should treat them humanely, even the worst people.

    Having said that, and somewhat contradictory to what I said earlier, I do admit part of me has no qualms about chemical castration on paedophiles (the ones that actually commit offences against children) and serial rapists, should these people are let free. I know, that makes me a wingnut of the worst kind.

  21. damon — on 6th August, 2011 at 1:15 am  

    I will give you credit for making up the most irrelevant argument against capital punishment.

    Well, I’m against capital punishment because of it’s process and the divisiveness it would cause, more than the actual taking of some bad person’s life.
    I don’t think the life of a very bad person is worth a great deal, but taking it would cause the rest of society more trouble than it’s worth to kill the person.

    I mean, if to kill one Taliban or Al Qaeda person in Afghanistan was bound up with as much red tape and legal processes as executing someone in Britain would be in the future, we wouldn’t have fired a shot in anger over there. I can’t really see why a Taliban’s life is so much more easily taken in Afghanistan than some child killer’s life is here.

    And the Taliban is probably not even a bad person, but just a poor farmer trying to make a few bucks.
    If one is passionately against capital punnishment, I think the case against it needs to be made. It’s the way its practiced that seems to be the biggest problem to me. Its a very cruel process in the USA – with guys on death row for over a decade. That’s not right.

    But if a select few of the worst killers were just shot – Chinese style – soon after being found guilty, in theory, I wouldn’t be particularly against that.

    It’s bad enough when the police shoot a guy who has shot a gun at them.
    http://www.channel4.com/news/mp-calls-for-calm-after-north-london-street-shooting

  22. Rumbold — on 7th August, 2011 at 11:34 am  

    Citizen comrade Rivers:

    Fraternal greeting and apologies for the late response. Yes, I do want to see a socialist utopia created, but aside from that, I don’t want to see innocent people executed. Do you? Because it would have happened had capital punishment been in place.

  23. dmol — on 8th August, 2011 at 6:29 pm  

    Good piece

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