Death Penalty: capital punishment; form of punishment in which a prisoner is put to death for crimes committed
In Britain the death penalty was abolished in 1965 (this was made permanent in 1969). Not only can you not be executed for any crime in their country but the law also says that we cannot send criminals back to countries where they would face the death penalty. For example, we could not send a murderer back to China or the U.S.A. without an agreement that, if found guilty, they would be given a life sentence rather than capital punishment.
- It is impossible to rectify mistakes. If you execute someone and then find out they were innocent there is nothing you can do. There are three people in Britain who have been pardoned after they were executed: Timothy Evans, Mahmood Mattan and Derek Bentley. IF these people had been imprisoned they could have been released.
- There is no evidence that the death penalty is more of a DETERRENT than prison. In the U.S.A., where most states still have a death penalty, there are more capital crimes (crimes that could carry the death penalty) committed per head of population than in the U.K. where we do not have the death penalty.
- There is no opportunity for REFORMATION. There have been several cases of serious criminals, such as Nicky Cruz, who have turned from a life of crime to help people in later life.
- Many religious people argue that only god has the right end life. It is not up to use to do so. We will look at religious arguments in detail below.
However, there have been several attempts to bring back the death penalty, all of which have failed. The reasons for wanting to bring it back are summarised below:
Reasons to bring back the Death Penalty:
- RETRIBUTION – people who commit serious crimes, like murder, deserve to die.
- DETERRENCE – a death penalty makes people afraid to commit crime (note there is no evidence for this – see above!)
- PROTECTION – with re-offending rates at 70%, we do not want to release murderers from prison in case they reoffend. We are safer with them dead!
- It is cheaper to kill people! Consider £30,000 per year to keep someone in prison for life, vs. the one-off cost of an execution (though evidence from the U.S.A. shows trials can cost up to three times as much in death penalty cases!)
Religious views on the Death Penalty:
Buddhists believe in ahimsa, the principle of non-harming. The first of the Five Moral Precepts is to abstain from taking life. Buddhism teaches about non-violence and compassion and thus, in theory, opposes the death penalty.
However, some Buddhist countries like Bhutan and Thailand do have death penalties. Largely this is justified by the balancing effect of karma allowed by granting death to murderers.
Much biblical teaching is in opposition to the death penalty. Jesus seems to have preached a message of FORGIVENESS and peace, for this reason Christians might focus on methods of punishment that allow REFORM to take place, which the death penalty does not.
There are also strict teachings about the SANCTITY OF LIFE in Christianity. Life is created by and belongs to God. It is not up to us to take it.
“…all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:16
However, some Christians look at the Old Testament laws which do prescribe death for certain crimes. For example:
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.” – Genesis 9:6
Taking a life that God has created is a serious crime and might be paid back with a life as well.
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” – Gandhi
However, other Hindus focus on the balancing effect of the death penalty on karma. If a person is killed for taking a life then their karma may be neutralised. They can then begin their new life without dropping down the varnas and have another go at living that life again. For this reason the death penalty might be seen as helping someone rather than harming them. Hindus believe that you cannot kill a soul (atman), only a body and the body will die anyway. You are simply helping the soul who was made a mistake on its journey to moksha.
“By killing an assassin the slayer incurs no guilt.” – The Laws of Manu 8:351
Islam is governed by Shari’ah law which dictates the death penalty for several crimes, including murder and adultery. Islam focusses on the law of retribution (lex talionis) which dictates life for life and so on.
“O you who believe, retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain…” – Al-Baqra 178
“If anyone is killed unjustly, we have granted the right or retribution to his heir.” – Al Isra 33
As mentioned for the Old Testament in Christianity, the Torah (Jewish books of Law) demands a death penalty for several crimes. Jewish law, like the law in Islam, focusses on RETRIBUTION and REPARATION for the crime:
“…eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” – Exodus 21:24
However, in Israel (the only ‘Jewish’ country) there has only ever been one execution since the formation of the state in 1948. That was Adolf Eichmann, who was a Nazi war criminal charged with working for the extermination of the Jewish race. Most Jews would prefer to REFORM the criminal, and most of the Law demands financial REPARATION in order to teach the criminal a lesson, rather than death:
“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” – Ezekiel 33:11