Execution is not the solution.

Image by Patrick Feller. Used under CC.
Image by Patrick Feller. Used under CC.

The murder of a child is a horrendous event.

A young life needlessly and tragically lost.

Crimes such as this often tend to prompt a resurgence in popularity for the death penalty, under the reasoning that someone as depraved as to end an innocent child’s life does not deserve their own.

Undoubtedly, a crime of this magnitude cannot go unpunished – but surely one needless death is enough?

We can categorise people who murder into two categories:

  • Those who are not of sound mind and committed their crime(s) as a result of this. And;
  • Those who do not come into the above category.

Those who are not of sound mind are people who have mental health conditions which, for example, may affect their judgement, or lead them to believe things that are not true. They may hear voices which tell them to do things, a symptom of schizophrenia. In other words, there are periods where they are not their usual selves.

Someone who kills someone because they were not their usual self could never be executed if we brought back capitol punishment – although it happens plenty in many countries. If a disorder leads someone to think that killing someone is an acceptable form of behaviour, then they need help – not punishment.

Those who were completely compos mentis when they committed their crime are much more difficult to sort. If anyone would be executed, it would be this group – they knew what they were doing, but it didn’t stop them. So why would the threat of certain death stop them? It doesn’t. Have a look at the murder rate of the United States, which executes more people than any other western nation by a considerable margin.

Is execution the best solution?

The purpose of prison is to detain criminals of their liberty as punishment, and rehabilitate them so that they may be reintegrated into society. Since we’d be killing them, rehabilitation would be out of the question.

Add to the fact that, if we kill someone, we just take the grief from one set of family and friends, and double it.

What does that achieve? Very little – even if you are one of those people who thinks retribution should be part of our legal system, as the perpetrator is no longer there to witness this emotional pain.

Then there’s the small problem of the fact that we occasionally incarcerate the wrong person. What if we had killed them? Could you tell the dead person’s loved ones that you know that their husband, their brother, their parent, their son, is completely innocent – but it’s too late?

A clean conscience?

In America, it is required that more than one person to carry out the final sentence in the case of death by lethal injection or firing squad. The reason? Guilt assuasion. I think that tells you everything you need to know about killing people in the name of justice.

An indefinite sentence of detention until the criminal is deemed to be no longer a danger to society – in effect, what we have here in Britain right now – would be a far more reasonable option. This would provide incentive to the criminal to change, knowing that they wouldn’t regain their liberty without it.

If they don’t change, well, they lose their freedom forever – they are kept away from the public for their protection, and have a fairly miserable existence in one of our prisons. And no amount of having their food cooked for them or TV access is ever going to make up for that.

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