Dear Reader, I asked the question which is the title of the post early today when I saw the news.
The answer is that Norway does not have a death penalty.
Right now society needs to consider what it should do with the worst members of society, it is not an easy question to consider. I know people like lists, one list of the worst people in British society was created by university academics recently. One of these bad britons was clearly a criminal (Jack the Ripper).
If we had caught Jack the Ripper, assuming that the court find him guilty then we would need to consider what to do with him. One school of thought is that the right thing to do is to hang / shoot / gas / electrocute / poison / dismember the vile felon as a way of ridding society of the criminal. One core idea is that the death sentence will deter others from crime and prevent reoffending.
While the idea that capital punishment does prevent a person reoffending is true, if you ignore any crimes which the prisoner might commit while awaiting their execution.
The deterrent effect of capital punishment might not exist, Albert Pierrepoint in his autobiography suggested that hanging was not an effective deterrent against murder. Also in the UK many years ago we had something known as the “bloody code” which had public hanging as the sentence for a wide range of crimes. Typically the hanging would occur in front of a large crowd. If hanging people in public deterred people from crime then surely only one of two people would need to be hanged per year for stealing, robbery and murder. But in those times vast numbers of people were sent to the gallows each year for the same types of crimes. This suggests to me that at least in that society that capital punishment did not have a strong deterrent effect against crime.
The other school of thought is that society needs to be better than the vile offender, one of the most important rules in society is “thou shall not kill“. It has been argued that by killing the criminal that the state reaches down to the level of the common murderer.
Capital punishment also brings the problem that while most criminal sanctions can be reversed, the execution can not be reversed. So it is possible for an error or miscarriage of justice to occur which the state is powerless to correct later.
Also with capital punishment a quick and easy exit from this world is given to some of the worst criminals, if we wish to take a punitive approach with the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley then by hanging them we prevent them suffering a long series of thing which include having to know that they will spend the rest of their pathetic lives inside a prison.
Also execution will stymie any attempt to rehabilitate the criminal. As a result of these four problems it should be clear that capital punishment is not a perfect one size fits all solution to all criminal ills.
I will be thinking about this typic some more, I will try to write on the train tonight a further post on the topic. The title is “What should we do with serious criminals such as mass killers ?”