Thursday, May 21, 2009

Death penalty debate

The tragic end to the Tori Stafford hunt has brought calls to bring back the death penalty to Canada.

Ignoring the moral arguments -- because those are really matters of personal views -- the real question must be one of "does it work"? That is, will having the death penalty reduce crime or even save money (that last point seems callous but I have heard the argument that "why spend money to keep killers alive").

The answer to both questions -- crime reduction and cost savings -- is that the death penalty is unhelpful.

There is no evidence, none, that the death penalty reduces crime.

And as for cost, the American experience (which would likely be found in Canada) is that the death penalty is far more expensive than life imprisonment.

Add to this the danger of false convictions (and remember Guy Paul Morin -- convicted of sexual abuse and murder of a child -- and he was not guilty) and the case for the death penalty is weakened still more.

I would oppose the death penalty even if it did work -- but that's from an ethical standpoint -- seeing as it is expensive and useless, well, we should not revisit the issue.
James Morton
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Anonymous said...

The "torch and pitchfork" crowd always comes out whenever there is a particularily repulsive crime especially if it involves children. They were out for Bernardo and they will be out again.

I think the source of many people's frustrations, including mine, is that there is no equivalent to the death penalty. In Canada, you can never be sentenced to life without parole which would accomplish the same thing as the electric chair. You have permanently removed someone from society.

Add to that the fact that you can get double credit for pre-trial custody and consecutive sentences do not exist (I've heard it referred to as a "bulk discount"), the resulting punishment doesn't really seem to fit the crime.

For a first degree charge the worst possible sentence is 25 years. Subtract doubled up pre-trial custody (4 years) so you're down to 21 years. The faint hope clause can get you out after only 15 years. With the statutory release policy (does that apply here?) a murderer would be out in 16.5 years anyway.

Public confidence is further eroded as offenders can be paroled despite indications that they are virtually guaranteed to reoffend (eg. Peter Whitmore).

Abduction carries a very light sentence (see Peter Whitmore again - a total of 6.3 years for two seperate abductions with sexual abuse).

Given all the above examples - impossibility of a true life sentence, parole despite concerns about reoffending and laughably short sentences, it is easy to see how people can get so frustrated and hence talk about breaking out the pitchforks and torches.

You are correct that death penalty cases end up being more expensive in the end. There are so many opportunities for appeal (and rightly so) that most of the cost gets eaten up there. The actual execution is cheap in comparison.

Terri said...

Murder is hardly a rational crime, and if life imprisonment isn't enough to deter someone, death won't be either. When I think of murder it boils down to a few different things.

Watching a show the other day about inmates training service dogs for vets, I came to realize that some murderers probably can be rehabilitated. The ones I'm talking about are gang and drug related murders, the folk that never knew any different. You live what you learn. There is hope for these people, as those dogs and that purpose gave those inmates, they learned love and responsibility. They had a job.

Then there are those like the Bernardos, Mansons, and Gacey's of the world. Mutants? Insane? Something cracked that can't be put back together? Maybe so. We can't rehabilitate them, but we can learn from them, and hope that we can use that knowledge to either understand and prevent such things, or at very least, learn enough about their abnormal psychology to lessen the damage of future "monsters" such as they. Though you might want them dead, they are more valuable alive.

If there is anything I've learned in my life, which was hellish, but at least I had a dog - was that when bad things happen, if you can't make good of them by learning from the experience then it's not worth being alive at all.

I don't necessarily believe that heinous criminals should live and should get room and board on my tax dollar, but I certainly do believe that we should be doing everything we can to understand why they did the things they did, and learn how to prevent them or recognize others like them before the cost to society becomes too great.

I just thought I'd add that to the stew.

James C Morton said...

Both reasoned and interesting comments -- thanks!