Thursday, December 25, 2008

What Difference Does the Death Penalty Make?

In Thailand, we are assured by Government officials that the death penalty is necessary to deter serious crime. Mostly unaware of the change of thinking which has led to a majority UN vote of 106 to 46 in favour of a universal moritorium on Capital Punishment, they adhere to a US support of the practice. Thai executioners have even learned the barbarous skill of lethal injection from US instructors, arguing that the replacement of the awful death by injected poisons is more humane than that inflicted by machine gun fire.
It has long been proposed that the true deterrence to crime is not execution but the probability of arrest and prosecution. States that abolish the death penalty do not fall apart, crime rates do not rise chaotically. A persuasive study has become available of the effect of abolition of the death penalty in Hong Kong in 1994 on Homicide Rates as displayed in the above statistical graph. Clearly there is no noticeable rise in homicide rate at the vertical line which marks the year of abolition.

The study on which this and the following item are based, was introduced to a meeting of BagFree by visiting Professor David T. Johnson of the University of Hawaii, author of a forthcoming book on the death penalty in Asia (Oxford University Press)

Effects of Abolishing the Death Penalty II.

A Hardly Noticeable Difference

Singapore and Hong Kong are twin cities, comparable to each other in almost every way. While the population of Hong Kong is greater, population densities, population growth, levels of education, and per capita income are practically the same. However, Singapore believes that public security requires it to impose the death penalty at the highest rate in the world per million population. Hong Kong abolished the death penalty in 1994. The graph at the head of this post reveals that the death penalty has had no effect in reducing the rate of homicide in Singapore over that in Hong Kong, in the period since 1994. The knowledge that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent has lead the majority of the world's nations to abandon this barbarous practice. Perhaps the death penalty is retained by Singapore in support of a policy of social intimidation. At any rate it clings to a practice and mode of execution which it learned from its western colonial masters. Ironically, it now argues that abolition would be an imposition of western domination!