In the wake of the execution of 8 people in Indonesia, Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has said that Australia should be discussing the Death Penalty. He says that people approach him, saying that while he may not agree with the death penalty, many Australians do, and we should have a conversation about it.

Considering the online commentary and actual discussion I have seen and heard over the last few days, I can see that Mr Joyce is right- there are indeed many Australians who support the death penalty. Some do so conditionally; for certain crimes or in certain circumstances. Some believe it’s the right of every country to decide for itself. I’m no expert on the matter but seeing this level of support reinforces Minister Joyce’s opinion- we should be having a discussion here in Australia. But perhaps not the discussion he implies. As someone in favour of mercy, I don’t think we should even for a second entertain the idea of bringing back the death penalty in Australia and the conversation needs to be about explaining why that is.

death penalty

The Death Penalty is Not Supported by Evidence

Numerous studies and statistics have shown the death penalty doesn’t deter people from committing capital crimes in the first place. For example, this fact sheet from Amnesty looks at the USA and shows that states where the death penalty in not used have a consistently lower rate of murder. While there are other studies showing death can be a deterrent, there have been shown to be serious methodological flaws in some studies and a review of all evidence concluded that the studies done to date should not be used to form policy. Whatever your position on the death penalty, this is a very good reason not to implement it. There are many logical and confident arguments on both sides but I found this snippet particularly compelling:

“Yet, according to the N.C. Department of Justice, the state murder rate has declined in the years since executions stopped. Given this fact, there is no credible argument that the death penalty deters crime. In fact, most people on death row committed their crimes in the heat of passion, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while suffering from mental illness. They represent a group that is highly unlikely to make rational decisions based on a fear of future consequences for their actions.” Full article here.

The Death Penalty is Expensive

You would be forgiven for thinking that killing a prisoner would be significantly cheaper than keeping them alive. Surprisingly, it would seem that this is not actually the case. It’s not that the execution is costly. It’s things like the legal costs and costs of housing death row inmates. It’s not a small difference in cost, either. The state of Kansas, in the US, spends 44 times the amount on a typical death penalty appeal than it does on a life sentence appeal and death row inmate housing costs them more than double what a general population inmate costs. Trials where the death penalty is sought take literally thousands of hours longer. Overall, it’s a very costly exercise.

The Death Penalty is Irreversible

Sounds pretty obvious, but it is. If new evidence becomes available or the real culprit comes forward, the, the state is in the terrible position of having killed an innocent person. It does happen. A study published last year indicates the rate of death row inmates wrongly executed is around 4.1%. That’s around one in 25.

The Death Penalty is Discriminatory

In countries that still execute prisoners, discrimination is a key issue. If you are from  a poor minority, there is a higher chance you will be sentenced to death. Compounding that is the fact that people from poor minorities have less resources with which to defend themselves.

The Death Penalty is a Sign of an Unjust Legal System

Some countries who have the death penalty have extremely unfair legal systems. People are sentenced to die after unfair trials or confessions that are obtained by torture, not to mention the issue of discrimination already mentioned.

The Death Penalty Creates State Sanctioned Murderers

Punishing people with death is not an abstract idea- it requires a person or persons to actually carry out the task of killing another human being. I read here that, in Indonesia, marksmen for execution firing squads are selected for their marksmanship and physical and spiritual health. To me, this would appear to say that they take their healthiest and best adjusted policemen and make them live with the knowledge that they may have killed someone (only some of the squad are given live rounds so they never actually know who fires the killing shots). I wonder how their well-being fares after this? Reading this account, it would seem not all that well.  It also makes me wonder… If we punish a murderer by killing them….how much do we REALLY value human life?

The Death Penalty is an Abuse of Human Rights

This is perhaps the most important aspect of this argument. The death penalty violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is cruel and inhumane. Taking into account that Australia is already under deserved scrutiny for human rights issues, surely it would be considerably wiser to address those issues rather than adding to them? Already our treatment of asylum seekers has drawn unfavourable international commentary and widespread criticism. Our Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at higher rates than others, they fare worse in life expectancy and illness rates and are being forced out of their communities. A shockingly high number of Australians with disabilities live near or below the poverty line. We are still fighting for marriage equality. Instead of discussing the possibility of reinstating this barbaric practice in Australia, I’d rather discuss why we shouldn’t and how we can help stop it elsewhere. When you read about how some countries allow the death penalty for children or for mass groups after mass trials, some procure confessions by torture, some do not observe fair legal practices like providing interpreters and some use this penalty as punishment for less serious crimes, it seems blatantly obvious to me that we must not join the ranks of those countries that utilise capital punishment but should instead work on addressing our already considerable shortcomings in areas to do with human rights and do what we can to end this practice world-wide.

A valid point…


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