How effective is the death penalty?

Some people simply deserve to die On the 22nd of July 2011, sixty nine young men and women woke up in the morning, dressed up really smartly and kissed their parents before they sped off to attend a conference somewhere on a Norwegian island.
Ivan Mugisha & Rachel Garuka
Ivan Mugisha & Rachel Garuka

Some people simply deserve to die

On the 22nd of July 2011, sixty nine young men and women woke up in the morning, dressed up really smartly and kissed their parents before they sped off to attend a conference somewhere on a Norwegian island. These poor souls didn’t realise that as they rushed towards the island, they neared the darkest destination in their lives where death waited to snatch them.

On that island, they were suddenly attacked and brutally killed by a 33 year old sane man, Anders Behring Breivik, for reasons they will never know. Before the gruesome attack, Breivik bombed an Oslo building, an attack that claimed eight people, bringing the total of his kills to 77.

Yet the most disappointing truth is not in his act, but that in Norwegian law, he cannot be put to death. Norway has no death penalty, which means this unapologetic serial murderer is bound to be imprisoned for say 30 odd years, with a consideration of parole when he shows good manners in prison or confinement to a psychiatric hospital. What is even worse is that his hospital and food bills are going to be footed by the relatives of the people he killed through the taxes they pay to the government.

If Breivik hurt the people of Norway, then the government is pouring salt on those same wounds. This also applies to all countries that have abolished the death penalty or are about to do so.

Punishment by law is meant to serve justice and to bring a sense of satisfaction to the aggrieved party. That is why punishment for crimes is different; a smuggler will not get the same sentence as a blackmailer and a rapist will not be treated as a wife beater.

Throughout history, murder is the one case that the universal judiciary believed must be concluded through serving a death sentence to convicts.  Both in the developed and the developing worlds, it has always been “a tooth for a tooth”; in other words, you don’t take a life and stay alive.

If it so happens that murderers are simply imprisoned, some aggrieved people who feel cheated by the law can opt to put the law in their own hands, as Carl lee Hailey did when his daughter was raped in John Grisham’s bestselling novel, ‘A Time to Kill’.

Anti-death sentence activists say “how can we say killing is wrong if we kill”? However, that analogy is wrong. Carrying out a sentence is different from committing a crime, just like imprisoning someone doesn’t translate into holding someone against their will.

They also say that there are people on death row who have a possibility of innocence; much as that may be true, the problem doesn’t lie in the fact that a country upholds a death sentence but in the fact that there are loopholes in the judicial system. Otherwise, there are innocent people who serve life sentences as well.

Without a death sentence, what message is being given to the public other than “you can actually kill and stay alive?” Such a message only brews murderers but keeps the populace scared and unprotected by the law.

@RushAfrican on Twitter

Killing people does not solve the problem

From what I’ve learned since I was a child, God gave us life and He is the only one who should take it away. Many people use that line when someone is killed but when it comes to the death penalty, for some reason, it doesn’t apply.

If a killer is killed, doesn’t that make the killer’s killer a killer? I don’t know if I am making sense but I’ve always believed that ‘an eye for an eye’ makes me no different from the one I seek justice on. The strongest supporters of the death penalty believe that it is an effective method because people fear death more than life in prison.

Homicide rates do not go down because of an existing death penalty; neither do they increase if or when it is reinstated. If that were the case, every country would support the death penalty for the sake of a decline in crime. On the contrary however, capital punishment increases murder rates because the state (the ones that support it), though executions, devalues human life.

The fact that most murders are unplanned and impulsive is evidence enough that the death penalty cannot dissuade these crimes. Murderers are not deterred by capital punishment - the emotionally charged environments in which these crimes take place do not suggest a coolly calculating murderer weighing his options.

Capital punishment in our modern age is as ineffective as it has always been and for the same reason: people capable of murder are already so far beyond the capacity of rational thought that they cannot make the connection between their actions and the threatened consequence of their own death.

It’s reasonable to argue that no one in their “right mind” would choose to take another person’s life (which is why insanity should never be the defense in a murder case). Those who see the death penalty as prevention are largely those who would never sanction taking a human life under any circumstances.

Statistics have shown that the death penalty is not an effective crime disincentive.  In fact, death penalty laws typically have no effect on crime rates at all. Let me put it this way, divide people who commit serious crimes in two categories. The first would be the ones who committed a serious crime at the spur of the moment. It was not intentional, like a junkie robbing a convenience store for example.

If he shot the store clerk in the spur of the moment, say in self defense, he did not know he would be involved in a murder case when the robbery blueprint was being made. So even if he knew about the death penalty, he didn’t take it into account!

The second category would be people who deliberately plan serious criminal activities like murder.  But, they also likely plan to avoid getting caught, so the death penalty has no more meaning to them as it does the desperate junkie!

When Tom Nkurungira murdered a girl and dumped her body in a septic tank, whether it was pre-meditated or not, I don’t think he gave the death penalty a thought. For one, it could have been a fight gone wrong that resulted in her death and naturally rather than turn himself in, dumped the body.

Or, maybe he actually murdered her in cold blood and dumped her body in the one place he thought no one would care to look. Either way, I think spending a lifetime in jail is greater than any punishment – even death. Sitting behind bars for the rest of life, asking for permission to use the bathroom and knowing that other people are living their lives on the outside seems like the greatest punishment of all.

I believe that the abolishment of the death penalty in Rwanda was a great step forward. For us this means a stride towards genuine reconciliation and unity. Everyone needs to let go of the ‘tooth for a tooth’ theory because that is even lower than what we think we are seeking justice for.


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