27 September 2011

Legal Murder: does it help lower the crime rate?

One of the common arguments for instituting the death penalty is that it helps keep the crime rate down.  In the mid-nineties when there was a vociferous call for the implementation of the death penalty in Sri Lanka, the advocates of this practice vigorously waved crime statistics pertaining to the period after the last hanging (in 1976, if I remember right). 
They had a point.  The crime rate had indeed shot up after that last legal murder.  On the other hand, to draw a consequent-line from non-execution to rising crime assumes that all other factors that lend to criminality remained constant in the relevant period.  This is wrong. 
The entire eighties was a period of systematic dismantling of democratic structures. The so-called freeing of the economy was heralded by its principal architect, J.R. Jayewardene by the famous verbal license to thieve: ‘let the robber barons come!’  A predilection by the then regime to circumvent the law and ridicule the judiciary cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the matter at hand.  A horrendous look-askance in July 1983 when ruling party thugs (most affiliated with its trade union) orchestrated attacks on the lives and properties of Tamils and the deliberate cultivation of the underworld also ‘helped’.  
Attacks on students, trade union busting, harassment of the opposition and ill-informed and counter-productive measures unleashed to counter the growing threat of terrorism, all led to the development of a culture of violence, dependency on the coercive aspects of the state apparatus and a readiness on the part of certain disgruntled elements in society to mimic the violence of the perceived oppressor, all contributed. 
Still, it is not possible to determine whether or not the non-implementation of capital punishment added to the crime rate.  The data for notorious and racist criminal justice systems where the death penalty exist, sheds a lot of light.  In the USA, not all states have the death penalty. The crime data across all states does not indicate that capital punishment has contributed to lowering the crime rate. Indeed, the crime rate in states that do not have it are lower than those who do. 
In contrast Saudi Arabia, where crime is responded to with gruesome methods of punishment and where capital punishment is practiced, there is a significantly lower crime rate than in many country which don’t have or have abolished the death penalty.  This is why advocates of capital punishment frequently cite the Saudi Arabian example.  Interestingly, however, it has been found that not all crimes get report or make it official data sets in that country. 
Certain actions, which would be deemed criminal in other countries, do not register in enumerations.  Saudi Arabia is a destination point to workers from other countries who, on account of endemic poverty, subject themselves to conditions such as involuntary servitude, non-receipt of wages, confinement, withholding of passports and movement restriction.  It is also a destination for children trafficked from other Middle Eastern countries. 
The global data, in any event, does not show a positive correlation between capital punishment and crime rate, especially when it comes to violent crimes such as homicide, which I pointed out in an earlier article are passion-crimes where the perpetrator does not ponder over consequences and/or absolves him/herself of moral guilt before committing murder. 
Crime is a problem. Criminality is a problem.  Systems are necessary both to prevent and deter.  Systems need to be re-fashioned to remove the conditions that give rise to crime.  Some claim that poverty breeds criminals, but impoverishment is an inadequate plea for clemency in the event of a crime being committed.  It must be recognized that corporate criminality on the whole produces more loot in terms of volume than petty crimes.  Such criminality is not recognized by the law as infringement and some are forgiven and forgotten due to the nexus between politician and corporate criminal.  The death penalty (being imposed or being non-existent) has no impact in such transgression. 
In societies with huge disparities and horrendous terms of exchange, both produced largely on account of theft of something at some point, it would be naïve to think that use and abuse of laws (essentially set up to perpetuate a system of value extraction) would cease if hanging was reintroduced.  White collar crime is system-insulated and is more often than not politically insured.   Capital punishment has not stopped that kind of crime anywhere in the world.



EKSaar said...

//Capital punishment has not stopped that kind of crime anywhere in the world.//

Why don't you support your argument with stats? Won't it reduce crimes even?

In Norway, few killers serve more than 14 years. Norway's worst mass killer Anders Behring Breivik will be given a jail sentence of only 21 years... and could be on weekend parole in seven.

Do you think it is reasonable?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

What's wrong is execution, not serving jail term. Check the stats for crime in states in the US that have the death penalty and those which do not. The data doesn't support the argument that capital punishment helps lower crime rate.