The death penalty, 29 October 2015

The benefits from the death penalty, in society, are purely psychological. The death of one man on death row contributes nothing to the bereaved; it merely satisfies their need for revenge. With their revenge having been satisfied, what of the man’s family? What of the woman’s family? What if they’re not 100% sure the person is guilty to begin with? Is the thirst for revenge so terrible that life must be taken to satisfy it?

Though the current stance on the death penalty varies from crime to crime, and even passive opposition will remain quiet in certain cases, nothing substantive, or beneficial, ever comes from the death of a human being. If one death makes a wrong, then two deaths make a right, and then the deed is done; what of the family of the executed and their desire to see those that executed their family member avenged? Differing in manner, the death penalty, sanctioned by locks and keys and guards and thousands of tax payer dollars, is the same by lethal injection as it is by gunshot wound to the head. It is the same in a prison as it is in a gang-fight; the means are different but they produce the same ends. They are different roads that go to the same place.

Many countries from around the world have fully abolished death penalty and capital punishment laws, tending to instead find a way by which the criminal can repay his debt to society with something other than his blood. In theocracies around the world, the death penalty is used to satisfy those the crime purportedly offends by creed. To one something is right; to another the same is wrong. It has been said that blasphemy in America, or the act of uttering or acting against god, should be a capital punishment offense. There have been some to take things a bit further and state that anyone that is homosexual should be executed because of blasphemy. From one perspective, those to revenge appeals edaciously, crime thirsts for punishment and its mouth stands agape until its thirst has been abided; to another, this is gross injustice favoring a marginal view of the nature of right and wrong. To one homosexuality is a crime, to another it is a matter of opinion; to someone between them in opinion, it is merely the exercise of free will as ordained by personal nature, carried out by personal freedom.

Facts and figures from

Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty

  1. Abolitionist and retentionist countries
    Over half the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
    Amnesty International’s latest information shows that:
  • 86 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;
  • 11 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;
  • 25 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions,

making a total of 122 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

  • 74 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller.

  1. Progress towards worldwide abolition

    Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Bhutan. Samoa, Turkmenistan) and Europe and the South Caucasus (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey).

    3. Moves to reintroduce the death penalty

    Once abolished, the death penalty is seldom reintroduced. Since 1985, over 50 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or, having previously abolished it for ordinary crimes, have gone on to abolish it for all crimes. During the same period only four abolitionist countries reintroduced the death penalty. One of them – Nepal – has since abolished the death penalty again; one, the Philippines, resumed executions but later stopped. There have been no executions in the other two (Gambia, Papua New Guinea).

    4. Death sentences and executions

    During 2004, at least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries and at least 7,395 people were sentenced to death in 64 countries. These were only minimum figures; the true figures were certainly higher.In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA.

    Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 3,400 people were executed in China during the year, although the true figures were believed to be much higher. In March 2004 a delegate at the National People’s Congress said that “nearly 10,000” people are executed per year in China.

    executed at least 159 people, and Viet Nam at least 64. There were 59 executions in the USA, down from 65 in 2003.

    5. Methods of execution
    Executions have been carried out by the following methods since 2000:

    Beheading (in Saudi Arabia, Iraq)
    Electrocution (in USA)
    Hanging (in Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore and other countries)
    Lethal injection (in China, Guatemala, Philippines, Thailand, USA)
    Shooting (in Belarus, China, Somalia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam and other countries)
    Stoning (in Afghanistan, Iran)

    6. Use of the death penalty against child offenders

    International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime being sentenced to death or executed. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the American Convention on Human Rights all have provisions to this effect. More than 110 countries whose laws still provide for the death penalty for at least some offences have laws specifically excluding the execution of child offenders or may be presumed to exclude such executions by being parties to one or another of the above treaties. A small number of countries, however, continue to execute child offenders.

    countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime – China, Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Yemen. China, Pakistan and Yemen have raised the minimum age to 18 in law, and Iran is reportedly in the process of doing so. The USA executed more child offenders than any other country (19 between 1990 and 2003).

    Amnesty International recorded four executions of child offenders in 2004 – one in China and three in Iran.

    Eight child offenders were executed in Iran in 2005.

    7. The deterrence argument
    Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: “. . .it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.”

    (Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 230)

    8. Effect of abolition on crime rates

    Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the death penalty and homicide rates, a study conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002 stated: “The fact that the statistics continue to point in the same direction is persuasive evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty”.

    Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has declined further. In 2003, 27 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.73 per 100,000 population, 44 per cent lower than in 1975 and the lowest rate in three decades.

    (Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 214)

    9. International agreements to abolish the death penalty

    One of the most important developments in recent years has been the adoption of international treaties whereby states commit themselves to not having the death penalty. Four such treaties now exist:

  • The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by 57 states. Seven other states have signed the Protocol, indicating their intention to become parties to it at a later date.
  • The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, which has been ratified by eight states and signed by one other in the Americas.
  • Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights), which has been ratified by 45 European states and signed by one other.
  • Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights), which has been ratified by 36 European states and signed by 7 others.

Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights is an agreement to abolish the death penalty in peacetime. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights provide for the total abolition of the death penalty but allow states wishing to do so to retain the death penalty in wartime as an exception. Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights provides for the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.

10. Execution of the innocent

As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

Since 1973, 122 prisoners have been released in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. There were six such cases in 2004 and three up to December 2005. Some prisoners had come close to execution after spending many years under sentence of death. Recurring features in their cases include prosecutorial or police misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and inadequate defence representation. Other US prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their guilt.

The then Governor of the US state of Illinois, George Ryan, declared a moratorium on executions in January 2000. His decision followed the exoneration of the 13th death row prisoner found to have been wrongfully convicted in the state since the USA reinstated the death penalty in 1977. During the same period, 12 other Illinois prisoners had been executed. In January 2003 Governor Ryan pardoned four death row prisoners and commuted all 167 other death sentences in Illinois.

11. The death penalty in the USA

  • 60 prisoners were executed in the USA in 2005, bringing the year-end total to 1004 executed since the use of the death penalty was resumed in 1977.
  • Around 3,400 prisoners were under sentence of death as of 1 January 2006.
  • 38 of the 50 US states provide for the death penalty in law. The death penalty is also provided under US federal military and civilian law.

In a story on CNN for Friday, March 24th, 2006, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Muslim clerics demand that a man, who is currently on trial, be executed for converting to Christianity. When asked about the issue, the cleric Abdul Raoulf said, “Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die.”

This is no different in nature than American people of religion urging courts to favor the death penalty for breaking laws put forth by the Bible or other religious sects. Capital punishment, as formal execution, goes far beyond recorded history. Historical information shows that the death penalty in human society has often been a part of a communal justice system. Punishment for a specific crime usually included compensation, corporal punishment, exile, and execution. Within smaller human societies and civilizations, crimes were rare and murder was usually a crime of passion arising from a personal dispute between two people. In these times, execution was rare. Compensation for the victim and exile were tolerable forms of justice.

Elaborations of tribal arbitration of disputes included settlements, done often in a religious context and a system of payment and compensation for the crime. Usually if something was destroyed, other than a life, the thirst of crime could be satisfied by compensation. If life was destroyed, a life had to be destroyed to satisfy the need for justice in most religious circumstances.

In certain parts of the world, nations in the form of ancient republics, monarchies or tribal oligarchies emerged. These nations were often united by common linguistic, religious or family ties. Moreover, expansion of these nations often occurred by conquest of neighboring tribes or nation. Consequently, various classes of royalty, nobility, various commoners and slave emerged. Accordingly, the systems of tribal arbitration were submerged into a more unified system of justice which formalised the relation between the different “classes” rather than “tribes”. The earliest and most famous example is Code of Hammurabi which set the different punishment and compensation according to the different class/group of victims and perpetrators. The Pentateuch (Old Testament) lays down the death penalty for kidnapping, magic, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, and a wide range of sexual crimes, although evidence suggests that actual executions were rare. A further example comes from Ancient Greece, where the Athenian legal system was first written down by Draco in about 621 BC: the death penalty was applied for a particularly wide range of crimes. The word draconian derives from Draco’s laws. Similarly, in medieval and early modern Europe, the death penalty was also used as a generalized form of punishment. For example, in 18th C. Britain, there were 222 crimes which were punishable by death, including crimes such as cutting down a tree or stealing an animal.

The last several centuries has seen the emergence of modern nation states. Almost fundamental to the concept of nation state is the idea of citizenship. This caused justice to be increasingly associated with equality and universality, which in Europe saw an emergence of the concept of natural right. Another important aspect is that emergence of standing police forces and permanent penitential institutions. The death penalty became an increasingly unnecessary deterrent and prevention of minor crimes such as theft. The 20th century was one of the bloodiest of the human history. Massive killing occurred as the resolution of war between nation states. A large part of execution was summary execution of enemy combatants. Also, modern military organizations employed capital punishment as a means of maintaining military discipline. In the past, cowardice, absence without leave, desertion, insubordination, looting, shirking under enemy fire and disobeying orders were often crimes punishable by death. The method of execution since firearms came into common use has almost invariably been the firing squad. Moreover, various authoritarian states, for example those with fascist or communist governments, or dictatorships, employed the death penalty as a potent means of political oppression. Partly as a response to such excessive punishment, civil organizations have started to place increasing emphasis on the concept of human rights and abolition of the death penalty.

All of the money currently being put forth to house inmates on death row, pay for their three meals a day for the twenty years they spend waiting to die, seems to be a gross squandering of funds that could be better spent improving aspects of American life and the economy. All the money spent housing condemned murderers and rapists could be spent on education, so that some would never have to kill for money, on helping the homeless find low cost housing, so that they would never have to steal; the circulation of proprietary funding could be implemented to stimulate the economy, while transferring all of the condemned into the same sort of jails that lifers reside in. The more educated someone is, the better chance they have at getting a good job. The better their job, the less chance they have of being desperate for money, or food. The better they feel, the less chance there is the person might resort to murder, or rape. Murder is often an act of depravity – and to stop the cause you have to stop first the effect. If a hose pipe is continuing to fill a pool full of water, it is much easier to turn off the hose pipe than it is to drain the pool every time it gets full. The death penalty becomes the solution to a problem that itself should be addressed before life is squandered to appease the need someone has for revenge.

In certain situations, living on death row seems more accommodating than struggling to survive while living on the streets alone. Killing a man might send you to death row for 20 years, but for 20 years you’ll have a place to sleep, 3 meals a day, and that’s much more than many of the homeless people in America have right now. So murder turns into a reasonable alternative because of the hose pipe that continues to fill the pool. The pool is emptied occasionally, by execution, but no one has stopped to consider turning off the hose pipe, or the actual cause that is compelling people to commit the crimes they are eventually to be executed for.

Arguments against the practice of the death penalty is not to be misconstrued as arguing on behalf of the perpetrator, or their crime, but arguing on behalf of the fact that nothing is solved by the reckless shed of human blood. One person’s blood is not worth more than another; and those behind the scenes that wear the masks are as guilty as those they punish; they are both committing murder. The argument is not on behalf of the murderer, or on behalf of the crime; it is on behalf of the statistics suggesting that the death penalty fails as a deterrent for future crimes, on behalf of the families of the innocent who were executed for crimes they did not commit, and on behalf of all the life that is easily thrown away to satisfy a mourners supposed right for revenge. Those on behalf of the death penalty say, “Death does not pay.” But to them it pays, just not to those who they believe they should die. Whether by morality, religious, empathy for the bereaved, it is in our nature to seek revenge, atonement, compensation. But is the only price for blood another’s blood?

Crime should not go without punishment. If the punishment, however, is not corrective of the problem inside of the person responsible for the crime, then there is no reason for the punishment.

The cost for an average lethal injection is $86.08. For every 10 criminals that are executed, the state is spending over $800 for it. Counting the food, the housing, the electricity needed to run death row, the bars, the payroll for the staff, the security, all of the paper work, and the price for burial – death is business. And because of the collective fear of death, it may seem to represent the ultimate punishment; to me, it represents the ultimate nap. The death of a murderer of my own child would I’m certain take away no pain, satisfy only my most base urges, and ultimately rob the Earth of another person. If reverence for life makes me a hippy, a liberal, a pacifist — whatever label the shadow of such thinking casts, I’ll stand in it.