Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran inside Bali's Kerobokan jail. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran inside Bali’s Kerobokan jail. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

Georgia has executed controversial death row prisoner Troy Davis. Picture: AP

Georgia has executed controversial death row prisoner Troy Davis. Picture: AP

IT IS regarded as inhumane and barbaric and often takes place in remote locations and under the cruellest of circumstances.

And despite the fact that the death penalty has been abolished in more than 140 countries, thousands of people still die every year in China, USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq.

Anti-death penalty campaigners can rattle off 25 different reasons why we need to abolish the death penalty, but for every argument there is a counter claim and then some.

On World Day Against the Death Penalty, here are five things you probably didn’t know about the practice, which human rights groups want abolished.


1. We need to be “tough on crime”

Everyone agrees crime is bad and we need to stop it. This seems sensible and logical in every way, until we ask the question: do we need the death penalty to be “tough” on crime?

The answer is no. The fallacy that crueller punishments deter crime doesn’t take into account that there are complex social and economic factors that drive crime rates, and secondly, that criminals don’t often plan on getting caught or think through all the consequences of their actions.

Simplified statistics don’t help either.

Did you know that since Canada stopped executing the murder rate has dropped by 44 per cent?

Does this mean that stopping executions will stop murders? Of course not, but it does demonstrate that the issues that drive and prevent crime are too complex to fit into a one line statistic or sound-byte.


2. They did the crime, they should do the time

Various iterations of this comment came thick and fast when Amnesty began calling for the clemency of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, currently on death row in Bali for drug offences.

Both men acknowledge their crimes and recognise that they must face punishment. But a death sentence deprives people of the opportunity to reform. Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are great examples of reform, one running art classes and the other studying to be a pastor. Their reform has come so far that a former governor of Kerobokan prison has argued they shouldn’t be executed. The immediate counter argument is that the threat of death forces people to reform. Again, the evidence for this simply isn’t conclusive.

Criminal justice systems the world over have had great success of reform without the threat of death, and often due to programs that focus on offender rehabilitation.


3. The criminal justice system is fair

Australia’s criminal justice system is largely fair, but that certainly can’t be said of many of the countries using the death penalty.

We know that the death penalty is applied overwhelmingly to the working class, ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups. This happens not because people in these categories are more prone to crime, but because they have less access to legal resources.

Legal support might not get the verdict changed, but mitigating circumstances can be presented, alternate arguments explored and evidence double-checked. All of this makes a difference to whether a death sentence is handed down.

Many justice systems are stacked against the person charged with the crime, but regardless of the country, a fair criminal justice system does not mean an infallible one – errors can and do occur. Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, USA after seven of nine key witnesses changed their testimony, some going so far as to argue for Troy’s innocence.


Death row inmates at southern Ohio Correctional Facility will meet their end here. Picture: AP

Death row inmates at southern Ohio Correctional Facility will meet their end here. Picture: AP


4. It is cheaper and more humane to execute people

A study done in California discovered that it was actually more expensive to execute a person than to keep them in jail for life. Yes, that’s right – the amount of time and money spent on taking a person’s life is greater than keeping them in prison.

For those of us who think there is a humane way to execute, let’s reflect on how some executions actually occur.

Often prisoners are woken with no knowledge they are to be killed, taken to a remote location, tied to a post and shot in the chest. If they don’t die, a captain takes a pistol and shoots them in the head. For hangings, people are sometimes strapped to a steel board to stop them moving as they are wheeled up to a noose.

Governments often keep this information on executions secret, even to the point of loading some of the guns with blanks so no one definitively knows who in the firing squad fired the death blow.


5. But what about [insert horrible despot here]: surely they should be executed?

There are a lot of people who have done horrific, unspeakable things, but modern societies should not join their ranks by also carrying out a murder. People are judged by their actions, and killing another human being is about as profound as actions come.

We can’t take back death, we know that systems make mistakes and we are lucky enough to live in a country where the majority of people oppose this cruel punishment.


To find out more go to Amnesty International . Read the full article on 5 reasons some people think the world needs the death penalty here.


* Michael Hayworth is Amnesty International‘s anti-death penalty campaigner. Based in Brisbane, he opposes the death penalty. If you can think of a tougher question for Michael, ask him on Twitter: @michaelhayworth.




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