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Waste of time - Death penalty won't make a difference, says UWI professor

Published:Saturday | January 23, 2016 | 1:00 AMGary Spaulding
Professor Anthony Clayton

GIVEN PERENNIALLY low conviction rates by local courts of law in Jamaica, Alcan Professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Anthony Clayton is suggesting that application of capital punishment will hardly serve as a deterrent to murder.

"There are those who believe that if (Jamaica) re-introduces capital punishment, (it) will solve crime," asserted Clayton at a Gleaner forum yesterday. "But it won't because the chances of being convicted are only five per cent."

Clayton brought empirical data to substantiate his claims: "It doesn't matter what the severity of the punishment is if the chances of being convicted are so small," he argued.

The last incident of capital punishment in Jamaica took place in 1988. With the murder rate ballooning out of control over the last 40 years, debate has been raging in the public space about the effect of the death penalty.

 

COMMON POSITION

 

The debate on its retention reconvened in the House of Representatives in 2008, with strong views emanating from both sides, although the arguments for outnumbered those that were against.

The common position was that steps should be urgently taken to advance the complete overhaul of the justice system to ensure that the process was fair and that the method of death should include the electric chair or death by injection, and should not be restricted to hanging.

But Clayton, who has conducted a comprehensive study of criminal behaviour globally, is not convinced. "If the chance of convictions is very low, the severity of the punishment doesn't matter," he argued.

He disclosed that the studies have found that a significantly higher number of the perpetrators of murders are themselves killed while on the run than are convicted by the courts of law for the crimes that they committed.

Clayton noted that between 2004 and 2010, some 61 per cent of the homicide levels remained unsolved, while 39 per cent were 'cleared', which denotes that the alleged murderers were merely identified.

 

CONVICTION RATES

 

Clayton revealed as well that one-third of this category was eventually acquitted. "So only 12 of the 39 per cent survived long enough to get to court and were sentenced," he said.

According to him, this means that the conviction rate overall was less than five per cent per year.

"If you are a murderer, you are three times more likely to be killed and about five times more likely to be acquitted than you are to be sentenced," he said.

This, he added, has a lot of consequences for crime solving. "Many believe that if capital punishment is re-introduced, it will solve the problem, but it won't," he stressed. "Because the chance of being convicted is only five percent.

Clayton noted that murder cases take up to five years to be concluded. He said that witnesses in some of the protracted murder cases are themselves killed, thereby affecting the outcomes of the trials.