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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