Every time we hear or read about an horrendous crime, such as the rape of a 4 month old baby, we have a kneejerk reaction and cry “Bring back the death penalty !”
There are many who are for it, and there are probably just as many who are against it.
The main argument of those against it, most notably the Government, is that it is “unconstitutional”. The South African Constitution has an entrenched Bill of Rights. Three of those Rights are used as “proof” that the death penalty is unconstitutional. Those rights are :
· The right to life
· The right to freedom and security of person
· The right to dignity
When a person rapes, which of the victim’s three “entrenched” constitutional rights remain intact ? Perhaps, if the victim is lucky, they escape with their lives.
When a person commits murder, which of the victim’s three “entrenched” rights remain intact ? None.
Does the murderer/rapist have the right to any rights ? The obvious answer is a resounding “NO”. When harsh prison conditions are uncovered, the human rights organizations are quick to cry foul and to call for prisoners’ human rights to be upheld. Who fights for the rights of the victims of those criminals ?
But then where do we go from here ?
There are two main problems with keeping people in prisons, both in South Africa and in other parts of the world, and these are also in fact used as arguments for the death penalty :
The first is usually used as an excuse for not sending an offender to prison, or for releasing them on R100 bail or on parole.
The second is usually used as an incentive by the public for reinstatement of the death penalty.
However, bringing back the death penalty in South Africa under the current administration is never going to happen. It would, in any event, be an exercise in futility. Law enforcement is corrupt, the judiciary is corrupt, in fact the whole system is so corrupt that you would probably find the victim’s family being sentenced to death, given the incompetence of the law enforcement system.
Is the death penalty a deterrent ? Those against it say no. I beg to differ. In a country where the judicial system actually works, if an offender knows that they will receive the death penalty I do believe that they will think twice about committing the crime. There are obviously those who are incompetent to make a distinction between right and wrong, but that is a matter for the criminal trial to adjudicate upon and to hand down the relevant sentence.
There are numerous cases of innocent people being executed, and there are still more under investigation. Fortunately, given the advances in DNA analysis, cases of wrongful arrests or convictions are declining. Despite all the advances and despite the best efforts of law enforcement, however, there are still more criminals walking the streets than there are behind bars.
Is life in prison a viable alternative ? It would at least keep the criminal off the street and stop them from re-offending. However, it is also a heavy burden on the state – and hence on the taxpayer. Prisoners receive better medical attention than the man-in-the-street against whom they committed the offences. They receive food and clothing. They are even able to obtain an education.
Can prisoners be rehabilitated ? Should they be rehabilitated, and at whose expense ? The case of Jon Venables springs to mind. His recent release and his fourth new identity cost in the region of GBP390 000. He murdered at the age of 12 and has been in and out of prison ever since – despite receiving a life sentence.
As children we are taught that two wrongs don’t make a right. Is putting a murderer to death not doing exactly that ?
What are our moral obligations towards both the victim and the criminal ? Does society have any obligations against the criminal ? Is it society’s obligation to feed, clothe and educate the criminal ?
The Cleveland Kidnapper was recently found hanged in his cell, after cleverly avoiding the death penalty for his crimes. Who is the winner here ? IS there a winner here ? The women are free, and the offender is dead. Will they be able to “heal” quicker because he is now dead – whatever the cause of his death ?
I don’t have any of the answers. What I do know is that this debate will rage on and will be long and hard-fought. In the end it is doubtful that there will be any winners.
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