A quarter of a century ago a top law enforcement official in Barbados made a bold, albeit private, prediction. It was: "You will never see another execution in our country."
For one thing, he replied, capital punishment solves nothing. It may satisfy people's need for vengeance but it doesn't deter crime.
For another, both major political parties, the Democratic Labour Party and the Barbados Labour Party, which take turns running the country, are opposed to the death penalty. So while they have suspended carrying out executions and judges go through the motions of sentencing convicted murders to death, governments and the opposition wouldn't take the next logical and correct step and remove it from the statute books altogether.
Public opposition to the death penalty wouldn't get them many votes. England, which introduced capital punishment in Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours more than 150 years ago, finally abolished it there in 1969, 5 years after the last executions were carried out there in 1964.
The issues of capital punishment and what to do about the rising tide of gun violence and related deaths have come roaring back in Barbados. Just the other day, retired Justice Leroy Inniss put it on the table for discussion. It has triggered a rising chorus "bring back the gallows".
Don't be surprised if there is an accompanying chant of barbarism: impose lashes with the cat-o-9 tails. That may be next.
But what have we learned about the use of the death penalty in recent years?
A stubborn and enduring bit of mythology is that capital punishment deters killings.
United Nations sponsored global research has shown that the deterrence effect isn't support by fact.
Texas, a death penalty state in the United States with a high rate of executions also has a homicide rate that is higher than states that have abolished it.
Then there is the simple fact that most homicides are crimes of passion committed without by people who know the victims. They act without thinking about being punished.
Next is a miscarriage of justice. When courts make mistakes and order innocent people to be executed, we can't bring the wrongfully convicted back to life after execution. Scores of people have been exonerated after they were first found guilty of murder.
The finality of the death sentence prevents us from telling the convicted we are sorry. Admittedly, the jump in killings in Barbados in recent years is making us nervous wrecks.
But the truth is that life in prison without any possibility of eventual freedom is a far tougher punishment and a much better solution. Going to prison for life isn't a walk in Queen's Park on Christmas morning.
The Government should put a legal stamp of approval on its capital punishment moratorium by enacting legislation that abolishes it, once and for all. It wouldn't be greeted with universal acclaim but it is the right thing to do.
Source: Barbados Nation News, September 10, 2015
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