What is the Real Benefit of Capital Punishment?

So the Jamaican Parliament recently had its ‘conscience’ vote on capital punishment and by a 2-to-1 margin decided that folks accused of murder should be prepared to schedule an appointment with the gallows. But what’s really new about this?  Well, nothing really; the statutes regarding this sentence for convicted murderers has been on the books for years now.

In reality, this recent vote was more an affirmation of an already existing statute and a feel-good measure than anything else.  One would have to be stupid to believe that having a prisoner on death row for five years and not execute him within that time frame constitutes inhumane treatment, if you’re a death-penalty proponent.

In Jamaica where most crimes are not even cleared by the police in five years, why would anyone believe that an inmate on death row can have his case reviewed and any additional investigation done within a five-year span that will either free him or confirm he did the crime and  schedule his appointment with the hangman?

Recently, Ian Boyne, in one of his columns, seemingly came out in favor of the death penalty for those who commit murder.  He cited a number of university professors and researchers at some U.S. universities who claimed that for every murderer executed it’s likely that five additional murders will not be committed.  Now I might not be as learned as some of the folks he cited in his column but I did not see where anyone he cited said that executing murderers will prevent murders.

I recently watched a documentary featuring a chaplain who worked for the TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) and who ministered to convicts on death row right up to their execution. He claimed that when Texas started executing prisoners after the US Supreme Court ok’d the death penalty, there were approximately 50 prisoners on death row.  By the time he retired, there were over 400 prisoners on death row.

This particular gentleman is now advocating for the abolition of the death penalty as a crime control measure.  Interspersed between his reflections was the opinion of then Texas governor George W. Bush, yes, the current US president, who said he believes that the death penalty is an effective crime control measure.  The truth is that executing murderers, by whatever the means, will not prevent murders from happening.

In fact, in some parts of the US with capital punishment, application of the death penalty has not been the primary reason why murders would have declined.  It is more or less the fact that those areas are experiencing economic growth and development combined with a significant law enforcement presence, an effective judiciary, and proactive and engaged social interactive and preventive services.

The truth is that crime, including murder, has been with us for as long as humanity has been around, whether you subscribe to biblical theory or to Darwin and evolution or any other theory.  Like it or not, like poverty it will always be with us.  It is high time we stop with this sugarcoating nonsense and face up to this inconvenient truth (sorry, Al Gore!).

Over time, communal groups and societies have debated and enacted laws and statutes that defined what is considered acceptable behavior and the punishment for those who would contravene those statutes.  Even after all that, folks have still decided to violate them anyway and still do, death sentence and all.  I personally believe that we are all born with a ‘criminal’ gene and that most of us do a good job of keeping it in check and therefore keep ourselves out of trouble with the law.

If one were to look at history, we would see that all the major civilizations have had some form of a death penalty, at various times, for crimes that were regarded as heinous or a clear and present danger to society – its institutions, mores and ruling class.

Somebody, please show me where murders ceased because of the laws that were around.  Someone, please show or tell me which country has had a cessation in murders because of the application of the death penalty.  Just like I thought, nowhere and no one.

If Jamaica is serious about crime, and murders in particular, then it needs a better and more effective law enforcement arm and a better forensic lab.  We already know about the corruption within the ranks of the JCF and a recent report in one of the Jamaican papers talked about a forensic lab that cannot conduct certain procedures on and from evidence gathered at crime scenes.

Purge the JCF ranks of the corrupt and inept cops.  Provide the JCF and the judiciary the equipment and resources to do a better, smarter and more effective job at prosecuting the war on crime.  Merge the army and the police to help with the staffing issues.  The cultural and compatibility issues will eventually work themselves out.  Build additional incarceration facilities. Propose and enact legislation that will address the shortcomings of any existing criminal statutes and pass them.

To the politicos in leadership and Parliament: stop the dithering and blathering and pass the damn crime bills already!  They have been in Parliament, in one iteration or another, from before the elections of last year and the seeming ‘haste’ in which they’re being deliberated and debated makes a hungry tortoise look as if it’s traveling at warp speed.

So, how do you pay for this?  Well, you start by shrinking the size of government and use some of the realized savings to bolster the constabulary and judiciary.  Have your specialized JCF units get continuous training in the latest investigative techniques and do a better job at prepping and protecting witnesses.

Jamaicans are sick and fed up of dimwit politicians talking of their abhorrence of crime, including murders, and yet are not doing anything to address or allay their concerns.  Of course, it would probably help in lowering the murder rate if the Jamaican economy could experience some serious economic growth and development (outside of tourism) that would create jobs for more young people. After all, when one is gainfully employed then it’s less time and less likely for them to be engaged in criminal activity.

For the Jamaican populace, stop voting for folks because of their personality and/or party affiliation and start asking the tough questions of prospective and incumbent candidates.  Witty repartee and one-liners might work fine trying to pick up someone at a bar or nightclub but it should not work when campaigning for political office.  If the leadership (party and government) is serious about crime and the upward-spiraling murder rate, they’ll do something and if not, vote them out the next election, regardless of which party they belong to.
Yes, my friends, hanging or any other execution means will not prevent crime, and murders in particular.  Nor should hanging be seen as a panacea for the murders taking place in Jamaica.  As mentioned earlier, the best we can hope for is to reduce crime, including murders, to manageable levels. This will involve a number of measures that will mean money, reform and restructuring (of the JCF) and sustained social commitments.

With the exception of a few NGOs, the government, whether PNP or JLP, has not shown an inclination to do/engage in any of the aforementioned in any meaningful way.  Getting rid of the old farts and windbags who are in leadership positions within the PNP and JLP and replace them with fresh, young blood who will bring a different mindset to problem-solving just might do the trick.  Then we’ll all be remarking about how relatively safe Jamaica is and its appeal as a place of tranquility and serenity will only grow.
So, what do you think?

Trevor Dawes

trevordaws@bellsouth.net

     

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