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Death penalty no deterrent against crime - new briefing

30-page briefing released to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty

To mark World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October), Amnesty International has published a new briefing on capital punishment which highlights a lack of evidence to support the common claim that the death penalty reduces serious crime.

The 30-page briefing - Not Making Us Safer: Crime, public safety and the death penalty - includes the following statistics:

  • India saw its murder rate decline by 23% over the past decade - a period which coincided with the country undergoing an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty between 2004 and 2011
  • In Canada the homicide rate fell in the years after the death penalty was abolished in 1976
  • A study comparing the murder rates in Hong Kong and Singapore (which have a similar population size) for a 35-year period beginning in 1973, found that the abolition of the death penalty in Hong Kong and the high execution rate in Singapore in the mid-1990s had little impact on crime levels
  • In the Caribbean there is no correlation between the death penalty and low crime rates: six of the ten countries with the highest homicide rates in the region retain the death penalty (the Bahamas, Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago). In St Kitts and Nevis, the number of murders increased from 23 to 27 in the year following the execution of Charles Elroy Laplace in late 2008

United Nations research has indicated a link between international murder rates and levels of poverty and income inequality. Countries with high levels of income inequality have homicide rates almost four times higher than more equal societies. Amnesty says that effective policing; fair, functioning criminal justice systems; and improvements in education and employment levels have been proven to be key to reducing levels of crime.

Though countries that carry out executions remain a very small minority in the world, Amnesty is calling for politicians to stop presenting the death penalty as a “quick-fix” to reduce high crime rates, and instead address problems in the criminal justice system.

Resumption in use of death penalty
Amnesty’s briefing points out that, despite the lack of evidence that capital punishment is proven crime deterrence measure, certain countries around the world have recently resumed or are planning to resume executions, often as a knee-jerk reaction to high or rising crime rates or to especially heinous murders. The past year has seen a resumption of executions in Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, and, most recently, Vietnam.

Public opinion
Politicians often allege strong levels of public support for the death penalty as justification for its use. However, polls tend to simplify the complexities of public opinion. When factors including the risk of wrongful execution and the unfairness of trials are considered, public support for the death penalty falls.

Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues Audrey Gaughran said:

“There is simply no convincing evidence that the death penalty acts as a special deterrent.

“Victims of crime deserve justice but the death penalty is not the answer.
“Politicians need to stop playing to the gallery and show leadership on public security. Instead they need to focus on effective solutions to address crime.

“Political posturing in favour of resuming executions distracts attention from the long-term solutions that effectively tackle the problems in the criminal justice system.”

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

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Report: Not making us safer - crime and the death penalty