Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Death Penalty

07 June 2005 • 461 words

The Government's decision to "hang every prisoner on Death Row" shows that they have no clue how to deal with crime. The stark and incontrovertible fact is that there is no country in the world where hanging has reduced criminal activity.

Whether the crime is murder or kidnapping or drug-trafficking or rape, capital punishment simply does not work. In fact, in Trinidad and Tobago, the murder rate started climbing in 1999 - the same year the nine members of the Dole Chadee gang were hanged in one weekend. The murder rate went from 7.1 per 100,000 in 1999 to 9.1 by the end of 2000. Now, we have a murder rate of over 19 per 100,000 persons.

There are many reasons the death penalty is ineffective. But a main one could well be that, by satisfying the public's thirst for revenge and giving the impression that the authorities are "strong", governments come under no pressure to implement effective measures for fighting crime, such as ensuring that the country has a police force which is well trained and properly equipped; instituting better intelligence and surveillance agencies; and implementing swifter justice through well-equipped and well-staffed courts. This may be why the countries with the lowest crime rates (with the exception of Singapore) are also countries which do not have the death penalty.

We know that violent crime is Trinidad and Tobago's most urgent problem. But we will not solve it by catering to irrational, barbaric, quick-fix ideas. Instead, the authorities must look at the research and take a long-term view so that the Government can institute pro-active and preventative solutions, rather than implement emotionally-charged band-aid measures. Only then will murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping and other crimes be reduced to levels where ordinary citizens can feel safe as they go about their daily business.

This move by the Government to start hangings seems to be nothing less than a cynical ploy to play on citizens' fears, while avoiding the hard and patient work needed to control criminal activity. Were this not the case, we would have thought that, before taking a decision of such magnitude, the Government would have debated the issue in Parliament. By bypassing a serious discussion of the decision to kill convicted killers, the Manning administration is showing that it prefers blood to brains.

The TT Humanist Association urges both the Government and the Opposition to discuss the pros and cons of capital punishment and, for this debate, allow all MPs to speak and vote according to conscience instead of the party whip. Media houses, NGOs, religious bodies, and other organisations should also arrange public discussions on capital punishment. Then, and only then, can the country decide if it really wants to hang people.

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