back to article Japanese press step into execution chamber

Japan's justice minister Keiko Chiba has invited the press to enter the Tokyo Detention Centre execution chamber, shortly after she personally attended the hanging of two convicted murderers. Chiba is a lawyer, former member of the Japan Socialist Party and personally opposed to capital punishment. When she came to office last …

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  1. Anigel
    Flame

    amnesty shamnasty

    And a couple of hours notice is still a hell of a lot more than these subhumans ever granted their victims.

    1. Ian Yates
      WTF?

      Very true

      It's not like any innocent people are ever executed.

    2. Pete B

      Possibly

      The problemwith capital punishment, however, is that mis-carriages of justice *do* occur -a lot more often than they should. If somebod'y been imprisoned for 10 years due to such a miscarriage then you can do something about it - it's a little tricky if they were executed some years previously - that's the reason I'm against capital punishment. BUT life terms should mean simply that.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well done with the first post there

      And you win the coveted Commentard Moron of the Month award!

      But perhaps you could also have made one of the following points:

      1. All killers, including everyone who supports the death penalty, deserve to be executed.

      2. We love murderers. That's why we adopt them as our role model is dealing with criminals.

      I say just put the whole lot of them - murderers and death penalty enthusiasts - on the naughty step.

    4. Steven Knox Silver badge
      Stop

      Not necessarily

      You don't know the facts of these cases. Perhaps they notified the authorities before killing anyone. Perhaps, they, too, kept their victims in cells for months or years before killing them. It's even possible that they were wrongly convicted.

      If you want to provide your opinion on a specific case or cases, the details of which you have studied and analyzed at least as deeply as the courts, feel free to do so.

      If you just want to spout derisive generalities to satisfy your own emotional imbalance, kindly FO.

    5. Greg J Preece

      It's people like you

      That make me glad to be human. Wait, no, that's not right.

      It's people like you that make me ashamed to be of the same species. That's the one.

    6. The old man from scene 24

      And there's the rub

      If we justify cruelty on the basis that someone else did it first, then we propagate an unending cycle of atrocity of mankind against his fellow mankind. Subhuman? Perhaps, but to respond in like manner is similarly subhuman.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahhh but...

    .still retaining the ultimate deterrent.

    If it was, then there would be no crimes leading to it. Therefore is not the ultimate deterant is it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      Reply to post: Ahhh but...

      "Ultimate" simply means "most powerful" or "final." It does not mean "absolute." Just that we haven't found a better deterrent to use on criminals.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Boffin

        Re: Ultimate deterrent

        "Just that we haven't found a better deterrent to use on criminals."

        At least, and still maintain our cherished liberties and freedoms, such as they still exist.

        We could all live in a completely perfect scientific utopia, at which point all human existance is stagnated to mere subsistence survival supported by machines that immediately take us out of society (for "re-education", of course) if we look like we might violate the norm.

        Humans have had a built-in mechanism for handling any and all social problems immediately, like any group organism. Its just like all organisms, once it gets too big and fat, it starts to die off anyway.

        Life is messy - there is no such thing as a neat and tidy puddle of protein.

    2. ravenviz Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: ultimate deterrant

      It would only be a deterrant to people who are level headed, think logically about actions and consequence, have empathy for other human beings, and aren't about to kill anyone. It is thus not a deterrant to people who are none of those things

      In the end capital punishment can only serve one purpose: to remove murderous tendencies from the gene pool. But then so could incarceration, and at least then some human rights are maintained; yes, I know they denied the basic human right of life to another individual but human rights does not fit with eye-for-any-eye retaliation

      Some peoples' brains just work differently, some know it's wrong but 'can't help it', some don't know it's wrong, or don't think it's wrong. Is it right to end another life on the basis of 'brain disablement'?

      We all know that the idea of infant euthanasia on the basis of physical disability has been suggested, and rejected as immoral; it's just that we cannot know about brain disability until later in life, and sometimes it's too late.

  3. Velv Silver badge

    America's Got Death

    Why not run the execution like a TV Talent show, where the viewers can vote on the outcome. Prosecution and defence can present cases for life sentence or death penalty and the viewers can text and phone their vote (clearly the courts have already found the person guilty - the TV show is only to decide the sentence).

    OK, perhaps this is sick and goes too far. But it would certainly get it into the public debate. And the site of a live execution on TV would probably turn most against execution in favour of life in prison.

    1. mmiied
      Joke

      RE:America's Got Death

      if I was forced to be on a TV talent show would kill my self

    2. Lionel Baden

      oh dear

      you seem to have way to much faith in humanity

      But sounds a little like bills hicks to me !!!

      PUT THEM IN FILMS !!!!

    3. Jim Morrow

      America's got death

      > Why not run the execution like a TV Talent show

      it's pretty much done that way already. death sentences get commuted or carried out depending on public opinion and how politicians react to that. if they want to be seen as sympathetic or "tough on crime", particularly with an election coming up, that decides what a politician will do when the final appeal is made. istr clinton or bush allowing someone who was mentally incompetent to be executed to stop the opposition party campaign from saying he was soft on crime.

      so we might as well vote on the execution directly instead of doing it by proxy.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re-Ahhh but...

    But no executed criminal has ever re-offended, so I suppose it is the ultimate deterrent

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      WTF...

      Do you even know what the word deterrent means ?

    2. david wilson

      @AC

      >>"But no executed criminal has ever re-offended, so I suppose it is the ultimate deterrent."

      I guess that's true, if using an unusual interpretation of the word 'deterrent'.

      Generally, I thought the idea applied to people potentially about to commit a crime pondering on the possible consequences if they get caught.

      Which unfortunately, quite a few potential criminals don't do - few crimes are committed with a rational expectation of being caught and punished, whether from a temporary or permanent lack of rationality, or a [possibly misguided] expectation that detection or conviction is unlikely enough to be ignorable.

    3. Graham Marsden
      FAIL

      @Re-Ahhh but...

      "The crime isss life...

      "... the sentence isss Death!"

      - Judge Death.

      Kill everyone and you'll have a perfect crime-free country...

  5. SlabMan

    Ultimate deterrent

    Clearly the death penalty works. How else do you explain the complete absence of violent crime in the USA?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Have you seen Japaness tv shows?

    Some of them are arguably worst then an execution on how humiliating they are.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Grenade

    But look how successful it is!

    How many people who have been executed reoffend?

  8. John Savard Silver badge

    Death Row

    It was having Death Row that got the death penalty declared unconstitutional in the U.S.; eventually, a new Supreme Court decision allowed the death penalty again, but on different terms. And one result of that is that Charles Manson and his accomplices are still alive at taxpayer expense.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      FAIL

      Yes and?

      And the death penalty existed before Manson and his brood went on their murder spree - didnt seem to deter them much did it? Nor does it seem to deter the thousands of murders that are committed each year in the US now, does it?

      And if Manson was executed today, would that bring back his victims? Nope.

      So lets see - deterrent element - doesnt appear to be working; Brings back the vicitims - afraid not.

      If the only reason you have for supporting the death penalty is that keeping people in prison costs you and other taxpayers money - well thats a pretty f&%ked up world view if you ask me.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        and if manson had been executed

        It would have saved the taxpayers millions. I tell you what....you want to keep them alive...you pay for it. i don't want my money wasted on them.

        1. Piggy and Tazzy

          Tell you what..

          With that attitude, how about I withhold any of MY money that goes towards making YOUR life easier than you obviously imagine you have it. I don't want any more of my money wasted on you.

          I can probably guess what newspaper you read too.

        2. Woodgar

          re: and if manson had been executed

          That simply isn't true.

          It's long been established, and is often reported on, that keeping a prisoner in jail for life is far cheaper than putting them to death.

    2. dave 151
      Thumb Down

      it was also...

      ...the US death penalty that got Colin Campbell Ross executed. But he was pardoned 86 years later after forensic evidence proved he was innocent. So that's OK then.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Cost of Death Penalty

        Just so that we are clear, every study there has been in the US has come to the conclusion that the cost of the death penalty is higher than the cost of life imprisonment (where life means life - remember the US has life no parole). There are plenty of reasons for this, the main one is the fact that, in order to prevent constitutional problems with "cruel and unusual punishment" death row inmates get solitary confinement (compared to dormitories in many Southern county gaols, or shared cells in most other prisons). They get better food than average. But most importantly, the appeals process goes through many more steps than the average appeals process. There are a number of standard appeals that get rejected pretty much every time, but are allowed out of a fear that the ultimate penalty has to have the ultimate legal backing. So every inmate files for insanity, cruel and unusual punishment, inadequate counsel, and many other things. And they file in county court, state supreme court, circuit courts of appeal and federal supreme court. This alone costs a fortune.

        So let's be clear. The death penalty isn't a good deterrent, as shown by the fact that the US has a worse murder rate than pretty much the whole of Europe. It doesn't bring the victim back. And it costs more. The only reason it exists it vengeance. And that is a pretty poor reason in any civilised society.

  9. Ian 45
    FAIL

    Crime

    Funny how Japan has far less crime and Tokyo feels safe no matter what time of day you are there.

    You would be surprised at how many in the UK support the death penalty! I still cannot work out how someone who takes another life gets a "life" sentence yet is out after 10 years.......

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      I don´t need no stinking title

      The reason you can´t work that out is because you are a bad person without the guts to act on it.

    2. david wilson

      @Ian 45

      >>"I still cannot work out how someone who takes another life gets a "life" sentence yet is out after 10 years."

      All you have to do is understand once what 'life sentence' means *as defined in the legal system*, and then remember it.

      It's similar to someone getting an X year sentence and not then serving precisely that sentence, and with similar logic behind it.

      In any case, 'taking another person's life' is itself a pretty broad category, covering a pretty wide range of possible actions by people in a whole variety of situations.

      If you think that a particular 10-years-to-life sentence isn't sufficient, that's a problem with the sentencing, not with the lack of a death penalty.

      Even when there was a death penalty, some death sentences would end up commuted to a prison term, and even in the currently extremely unlikely event that a death penalty for murder was restored in the UK, the chances are it would be the most severe penalty in a system of punishments for different 'grades' of murder, which, even if it was generally 'just' in some ways, would still seem likely to leave many relatives and friends of murdered people wondering why the killer of the person *they* cared about hadn't been done for first-degree murder.

  10. BristolBachelor Gold badge
    Megaphone

    amnesty shamnasty 2

    I would say something that is MUCH more significant is the THOUSANDS who are murdered as a result of governement lead actions overseas (Think Afganistan, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam...) compared to the 1 or 2 who are capitally punished (regardless of innocence, guilt or your thoughts on capital punishment)

    There can only be limited resources available to Amnesty. Deal with the biggest problems first.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ crime

    on that subject...

    countries with that feel safe factor and low crime rates usually have

    good schools, strong community structure, and a socially structure based on equality

    seems teaching people to be useful intelligent members of society and rewarding them for being such, works better than the death penality

    death is not much of a deterrent if you don't have much quality of life

  12. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Crime

    That Japan doesn't have juries and has a pretty much 100% conviction rate helps.

  13. heynonnymouse coward

    "ultimate deterrent"

    Citation needed.

  14. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    An eye for an eye...

    A tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.

    Some of you may not consider it a deterrent, but it is the best justice and 100% fair in that respect.

    1. david wilson

      @Tigra 07

      >>"A tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.

      Some of you may not consider it a deterrent, but it is the best justice and 100% fair in that respect."

      How does that work for more 'accidental' deaths?

      Say someone has a coughing fit and runs someone over, or knocks a plant-pot off a windowsill and it hits someone in the street below.

      What if two people have a minor argument which ends up with them each poking fingers in each other's chests, and one drops dead - does everything depend on making a decision about who started the argument?

      What level of blame is necessary to justify a death penalty, and what's the 'just' or 'fair' punishment for causing a death with a lower blame component?

      Do you think you could get even half a dozen people to agree what a fair blame threshold is?

      What about the manager who disables safety guards on machinery to speed production, if someone falls in and dies?

      What if the guy who then falls into the machine was doing something the manager had told him not to do?

      1. Tigra 07 Silver badge
        FAIL

        Justice is an eye for an eye

        You're just being stupid David, as i can prove:

        "Say someone has a coughing fit and runs someone over, or knocks a plant-pot off a windowsill and it hits someone in the street below."

        They can get sued now and lose their house and job for those circumstances, accident or not.

        Doesn't require an eye for an eye unless the person did those things on purpose.

        "What if two people have a minor argument which ends up with them each poking fingers in each other's chests, and one drops dead - does everything depend on making a decision about who started the argument?"

        Wouldn't break any laws so how could they sue or go to court?

        Assault only works if there's evidence so a poke would have to bruise or cut someone, in which case it's obvious who came off worse.

        Killing someone by poking would not equate to murder in any circumstance

        "Do you think you could get even half a dozen people to agree what a fair blame threshold is?"

        It's called law and more than a dozen people have agreed on that for thousands of years

        "What if the guy who then falls into the machine was doing something the manager had told him not to do?"

        Then justice was served and that's also a deterrent for other workers not to do it

        Use your brain David

        1. david wilson

          @Tigra 07

          >>"Doesn't require an eye for an eye unless the person did those things on purpose."

          So any amount of negligence is only ever a civil matter?

          >>"Wouldn't break any laws so how could they sue or go to court?

          >>Assault only works if there's evidence so a poke would have to bruise or cut someone, in which case it's obvious who came off worse.

          Ignoring for the moment the fact that 'assault' in UK law doesn't even require physical contact, at precisely what point does an argument become a scuffle, and a scuffle become a fight, and what level of fight causing death is sufficient to justify a death penalty?

          >>"It's called law and more than a dozen people have agreed on that for thousands of years"

          Right, so there are precisely worded categories, and it's always obvious which category a particular [alleged] offence fits into?

          Say you define murder (in the sense of a death demanding lethal retribution) as being a death caused by someone illegally harming someone else with prior intent.

          How long do you define 'prior' to be - what's your widely agreed cutoff between hot and cold blood?

          Exactly how much harm needs to have been intended in order for it to count (and how do you even know what was intended).

          What level of force in the harming is necessary?

          If the death would have been unexpected by anyone given the force used, does that mean it's a lesser offence?

          If the death would have been unexpected by the perpetrator given the force used and the intelligence of the perpetrator, does that mean it's a lesser offence?

          Etc.

          The point I'm making is that even for people who go for an eye-for-an-eye approach, claiming it's fair and just and simple to understand, they have to accept that in reality, there are going to be all kinds of grey areas, and all kinds of situations that in all fairness, don't qualify for death as a punishment even if they're not too different from situations that do.

          In those situations, if you can't apply simplistic eye-for-an-eye justice, what *do* you do?

          You can't half-kill someone, just as you can't put out half an eye in the case where someone ended up blinded but it wasn't all someone else's fault, (or where you don't know which of two stone-throwing people actually threw the stone that hit someone, etc).

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          what?!

          ""What if the guy who then falls into the machine was doing something the manager had told him not to do?"

          Then justice was served"

          So disobeying your manager is worthy of a death sentence in your world, then? Glad you're not my boss. In fact, I'm glad I don't know you at all.

          1. Tigra 07 Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Common Sense

            Dave if someone punches you would you punch them back or run off?

            Same thing

            If someone attacked your wife, wouldn't you want them to have the same done to them for such an unprovoked attack?

            So to me, it's still a brilliant deterrent to rapists and murderers.

            And it's proven to work better than locking prisoners up as reoffending rates in Saudi Arabia are testament to

            1. david wilson

              @Tigra 07

              >>"Dave if someone punches you would you punch them back or run off?"

              (or do both, if they look like a worse runner than me?)

              That depends on any number of factors, such as why they punched me, how hard they punched me, who they are, whether I like them, loathe them, or don't know them, how relatively strong they are, where I am, who else is around, whether the person looks likely to get some other sanction, whether it looks like punching them is going to result in some kind of escalation, whether I think I was hit deliberately or by accident, whether the person looks sane, whether the person looks old enough to be responsible, whether I might think I'd be better off saving overt or covert revenge for a later time, whether I think that having been hit and *not* retaliating could prove to be of value in the future, etc.

              Most people would base even a split-second decision on some personal combination of factors, such as some of those above, and/or some other ones.

              There simply isn't a sensible blanket response, since situations vary so much.

              In any case, if you're talking about a rational, considered justice system, shouldn't you be asking:

              >>"Dave, if someone punched you last month, would you now decide to punch them back, or do something else, possibly including doing nothing?"

              >>"If someone attacked your wife, wouldn't you want them to have the same done to them for such an unprovoked attack?"

              Even assuming the person involved was sane, the attack was unprovoked, etc, how could I or anyone else rationally work out *how much* to attack them?

              Do I try to do the same physical damage - and what does 'same' mean in the context of two differently-built people, possibly with quite different powers of recovery from injury?

              If a teenager slaps my wife, and she falls and breaks her wrist, how do I manage to /equivalently/ break their wrist, without somehow getting a surgeon to do it. What if my wife has poorly-healing bones, or arthritis?

              If I try doing it DIY with a baseball bat, what happens if I hit too hard, and they lose their hand?

              Do I try to do the same emotional damage - and what does 'same' mean there, when for a given blow, one victim might shrug it off while another ends up scared to walk the streets?

              How can I make someone equivalently scared to walk the streets by application of a precise and possibly small amount of physical damage?

              What if my wife was naturally neurotic or depressive, and ended up reacting really badly for months to a slightly-violent drunk slapping her because he'd mistaken her for someone else?

              How do I manage to generate the same overall harm in the drunk by applying violence?

    2. Rattus Rattus
      Thumb Down

      An eye for an eye

      makes the whole world blind.

  15. Stratman

    title

    So, killing someone is wrong. To show how wrong it is, if you kill someone we'll get an octagenarian dressed in medieval garb to pronounce a spell over you. Then kill you. To show how wrong it is.

    1. North Briton

      ‘Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property…

      …or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable is it to think that to take the life of a man who has taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life. We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself, and that while no other crime that he can commit deprives him of his right to live, this shall.’

      —John Stuart Mill, from his speech against abolishing the death penalty, April 21, 1868 (http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/262/52906)

  16. Zero Sum
    FAIL

    Spiteful

    While the death penalty for me is already barbaric, Japan's policy of keeping the date of execution secret but for a few hours reeks of vindictive, childish spitefulness.

    Elaborate torture of a kind.

    Please grow up, Japan!

  17. Bounty

    huh?

    Why does execution have to be a deterrent? It's just the most effective way to keep someone from re-offending. Why is jail a deterrent for robbery but not murder, or are we kidnapping all inmates for fun?

    Killing isn't necessarily wrong, killing w/o a valid reason is wrong. (ex: Bob walks into the Kwickie Mart and starts killing everyone, owner kills Bob = owner is good / moral / saved a little girl.)

    Why is Manson alive? Seriously? Jail is expensive. Executions should be quick and cheap. Do mistakes get made, yes of course. Life isn't utopia, it's messy and complex. Since 1992 we've had 15 exonerated death row inmates because of DNA... v.s. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/rpr94.pdf Which represents 2/3 of inmates released in the US in 1994. "Within 3 years, 2.5% of the 3,138 released rapists were rearrested for another rape, and 1.2% of the 4,443 persons who had served time for homicide were rearrested for a homicide." That works out to the US releasing around 80 convicted murders in 1994 who murdered again shortly afterwards. That means the more people are killing again after being paroled than getting executed innocently. Stop letting these wolves walk among us!

    I don't have numbers for number of convicted murderers in the US that have been exonerated after all appeals, but if that # is lower than 80/year, we'd net innocent lives by immediately executing ALL convicted murderers who have made their appeals.

    1. david wilson

      @Bounty

      >>"I don't have numbers for number of convicted murderers in the US that have been exonerated after all appeals, but if that # is lower than 80/year, we'd net innocent lives by immediately executing ALL convicted murderers who have made their appeals."

      That does rather get into tricky philosophical territory.

      If some anonymous person threatens to kill two unnamed innocent people at some point in the future unless we kill one specific innocent man now, and we could be absolutely sure they meant it and would carry out their threat, do we have the right to kill the innocent person if on average it results in the "greatest good of the greatest number"?

      If the threat is to kill two innocent people unless we kill two people, one of whom is known to be innocent of murder, and one known to be guilty, is that a hugely different situation?

      What if we don't know which of the two people is guilty of murder, but we still know one is (some kind of closed-room murder scenario where only one could be guilty)?

      What if we are asked to kill N people, of whom we are sure that N-1 are guilty of murder?

      What if we're not sure, but know that on average N-1 are murderers?

      Morally speaking, does it actually matter if we know *which* person we're going to kill is innocent, as long as we know (or are confident that on average) that we are going to be killing *an* innocent person?

  18. North Briton

    ‘… so lavish of their pity for the criminals that they have none left for their victims’

    1. Capital punishment deters: homicides and attempted murders nearly doubled 10 years after Capital Punishment’s abolition—from 532 in 1965 to 1,014 in 1975. One must also consider the serious assaults that only fortune and improving medical care prevented from becoming murders: from 2,269 to 4,493. Violence in general continues rising: although in 2008/9 there were ‘only’ 1,223 homicides and attempted murders, there were a further 49,472 crimes of serious violence. In 1901 there were 2.24 homicide-related crimes (including serious assaults) per 100,000 people; in 1941 this had decreased to 1.68; in 2001 it had risen to 59.56. (http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/recordedcrime1.html)

    2. ‘Life’ imprisonment does not stop convicted murderers committing crimes, including further murders. A 1997 Home Office report (http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs/hosb297.pdf) records that 362 ‘life licensees released between 1972 and 1990 were reconvicted of a standard list offence within 5 years. Of those released 66 had been convicted of a grave offence by the end of 1995’. Another report (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/hosb0209.pdf) records 30 homicide convictions between 1997/8 and 2007/8 of people already convicted of homicide, i.e. 30 convicted murderers, who would once have hanged, murdered again. 30 people have died in 10 years as a *direct* result of Capital Punishment’s absence.

    3. Life imprisonment without parole does not stop convicted murders from committing crimes behind bars—rapes, assaults and murders: three of the 30 murders above were inmates murdered inside prison.

    4. Ironically, hanging still occurs in British prisons. Dr Anthony Daniels (retired prison psychiatrist) wrote in his essay ‘Arrested Development’: ‘There have been many more hangings in my prison since the abolition of the death penalty than there ever were before.’ From 1990 to 2001 there were 759 self-inflicted deaths in prisons in England and Wales; there were also 26 homicides (rdsolr4604 http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/rdsolr4604.pdf).

  19. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Grenade

    Not a deterrent at all

    Far from being the ultimate deterrent, it is more the ultimate punishment as once it is done, there isn't anything else. The reason it isn't now and never was a deterrent is that criminals don't plan on getting caught. It's also why imprisonment isn't a deterrent.

    How many "bad guys" actually plan ahead and calculate the odds of getting caught, convicted and punished? Not too many more than none.

    1. david wilson

      @North Briton

      Looking at recorded homicide figures in:

      http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf

      It *does* look like the 50s/60s were a particularly good (law abiding) time.

      However, figures have certainly increased since then, to significantly above levels from earlier in the century.

      The tricky thing is trying to tease out the influences of various factors other than possible punishments.

      It's clear that other factors /can/ have dramatic effects - witness the recent dramatic changes in murder rates in some USA cities.

      If it /is/ the case that zero-tolerance of minor crimes does have a serious knock-on effect on other crimes, what effect does changing police/society attitudes to juvenile behaviour have?

      etc.

      How (or whether it's possible) to actually get a meaningful set of figures from which to objectively calculate the likely deterrent effect of a death penalty compared to other punishments is a pretty tricky issue.

      That's made much more difficult by the tendency of many similar countries to phase out the death penalty at roughly similar times, added to the (presumably) slow/delayed effect that changes in penalties have on people's attitudes and behaviours.

      If there /was/ a strong deterrent effect, would that effect still persist in people who were brought up when there was a death penalty, but if so, how could that hope to be separated from all the other values that people of a certain age are likely to have picked up while young?

      I'm sure that different people could dig up all kinds of statistics that seem to support the point of view they had long before considering statistics, and that only a very small fraction of people, whatever their views, are likely to have based their views even slightly on an actual or even attempted analysis of numbers.

      Also, many people might try to project their own feelings onto people at large - I might think that having a death penalty would help dissuade me from killing someone, but so would a long indeterminate prison sentence, and I can't easily quantify /how/ different the deterrent values are, especially given that I have no current murderous feelings to even try to balance either deterrent against.

      >>"Another report (link) records 30 homicide convictions between 1997/8 and 2007/8 of people already convicted of homicide, i.e. 30 convicted murderers, who would once have hanged, murdered again."

      Not exactly, since homicide is a rather wider category than murder.

      Looking at the paragraph after the one you quoted from:

      "Nine of the 30 subsequent convictions were for murder, where the original conviction was also

      murder."

      Though it doesn't give figures for the total subsequent killings (murder and other homicides) for convicted murderers

      So 9 convicted murderers, who once /might/ have hanged, ended up murdering again.

      Some other number of convicted murderers, who once /might/ have hanged, ended up committing non-murder homicides again.

      That's still a lot of unfortunate deaths, but in a comparison of a death penalty against possible alternatives, many people would ask whether those number could have been lower in a better-run system (ie better decisions on release, better supervision for people on licence), or whether it really was about the best we could realistically expect to have done.

      1. North Briton

        @ David Wilson

        In terms of per population, 1921 appears our safest year with only 1.8 total crimes against the person per 100,000 population; by 1951 this figure was up to 20.68 per 100,000 and by 1961 it had nearly doubled to 40.82 (the 2001 figure is 1,065.85 per 100,000).

        Capital punishment was but one factor—but it *was* a factor. As well, judicial corporal punishment existed, stern and disciplined prisons, and police officers pounded beats—sufficiently plentiful that, in towns, beating truncheons against walls could alert fellow officers on neighbouring beats. Corporal punishment was routine in schools, welfare was limited and did not reward failure or criminality; and Peel’s 7th Principle, that ‘the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence’ was not an empty slogan—the public were legally obliged to enforce the law: ‘[A]ny private person who is present when any felony is committed, is bound by law to arrest the felon, on pain of fine and imprisonment if he negligently permit him to escape’ (A.V. Dicey, ‘Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution’, Appendix IV). However, liberals do not argue for any of the latter measures but oppose each one.

        One should note there are numbers now ‘getting away’ with manslaughter: e.g. Gareth Rees, who subjected 3 year old Courtney Crockett to sustained abuse, eventually culminating in her death (the pathologist cataloguing more than 100 injuries), was sentenced to 10 years (automatic release after two-thirds served); in saner times and prior to the Homicide Act 1957, Rees would undoubtedly have been charged with murder and hanged.

        It is true that we used to exercise considerable mercy in our application of capital punishment (too merciful perhaps). Even so, I do not see any grounds for clemency that might have saved Shaun Clarke from the rope for strangling Patricia Sykes in 1988; and if he had hanged then, Donna Wilson, a 30 year old care worker, would still be alive now.

        1. lglethal Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          One thing to keep in mind...

          When comparing figures from ye olde days and modern times is that in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, policing was still very much in its infancy. Murder and assault was incredibly common in the poorer areas (think East End) but since only poor people lived there, there were very few police and so crimes went unreported more often then not.

          The high figures you see today are because EVERY death is investigated. Additionally, with modern technology and invetigative techniques, what would most certainly have been brushed off as a heart attack or a fall can in these times be easily identifed as murder.

          So whilst 1901 may look like the streets were all safe and Britian was a utopia the fact is many deaths went unreported or uninvestigated and i would suspect a large number were ignored for lack of evidence. I have no doubt that to be charged with murder in 1901, probably required you to be either caught at the scene or positively identifed by someone of high standing as being there. Anything else was guess work...

          So your comparing Apples and Oranges, when you compare official figures for different eras of policing...

        2. david wilson

          @North Briton

          >>"In terms of per population, 1921 appears our safest year with only 1.8 total crimes against the person per 100,000 population; by 1951 this figure was up to 20.68 per 100,000 and by 1961 it had nearly doubled to 40.82 (the 2001 figure is 1,065.85 per 100,000)."

          That is rather assuming comparability of figures.

          At least with homicides, there's maybe an expectation of some kind of rough consistency, though go back far enough, and there may well be things that wouldn't have been recorded - a carefully-smothered baby seems rather less likely to have been picked up as an unnatural death a century ago compared to now.

          However, if looking at 'crimes against the person', there are at least two huge issues - how much has reporting changed, and how much have definitions changed.

          Would the average person in 1910 have been as likely to report a fight or an attempted mugging as someone in 2010 (rather than ignoring it or dealing with it informally), and even if they did report it, how many minor instances would still have ended up being dealt with by the local bobby without anything being recorded.

          How many crimes now are only really reported because someone needs a police report number for insurance purposes - go back to when hardly anyone had insurance, and that reason vanishes.

          Also, what is defined as violence now covers incidents where no-one has had a finger laid on them.

          If historical comparisons are to be made, they should be made with maximum caution, not maximum opportunism.

          1. North Briton

            @ David Wilson

            I must apologise: I too quickly skimmed the spreadsheet in providing figures. The category of ‘total crimes against the person’ actually describes ‘lesser’ crimes of violence (including such categories as ‘other wounding, etc.’, ‘assault’, ‘intimidation and molestation’, ‘abduction’ and ‘other malicious injuries’) and excludes the more serious (not combined as I erroneously thought). So in *addition* to figures already supplied there were 1.52 homicide-related crimes per 100,000 population in 1921; by 1951 this figure had increased to 3.61, 1961 5.3 and in 2001 it had increased to 59.56. This is obviously a better measure of our burgeoning crime rate.

            In terms of comparing historical data, I do not claim hard science. As described by serving police officers such as David Copperfield (‘Wasting Police Time’) and Michael Pinkstone (‘The Victorian Playground’), crimes figures are inflated due to police officers investigating nonsense that once would have been quickly resolved or dismissed; but crime figures are also deflated with crimes not being investigated and statistical legerdemain (e.g. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1487992/Police-officers-manipulate-the-statistics-to-meet-robbery-and-burglary-targets.html).

            In comparison, Dr Jose Harris in ‘Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870–1914’ wrote that ‘a very high proportion of Edwardian convicts were in prison for offences that would have been much more lightly treated or wholly disregarded by law enforcers in the late twentieth century. In 1912–13, for example, one quarter of males aged 16 to 21 who were imprisoned in the metropolitan area of London were serving seven-day sentences for offences which included drunkenness, playing games in the street; riding a bicycle without lights, gaming, obscene language, and sleeping rough. If late twentieth century standards of policing and sentencing had been applied in Edwardian Britain, then prisons would have been virtually empty; conversely, if Edwardian standards were applied in the 1990s then most of the youth of Britain would be in gaol.’

            So, David, I argue in return that if historical comparisons are to be *dismissed*, this should be done likewise with maximum caution and not maximum opportunism.

  20. bugalugs
    IT Angle

    Your email address is never published

    honourably said, one and all !

    but wtf has this to do with IT ?

    oh, i forgot the antics of BOFH & the PFY...

  21. Chris Hunt

    Reoffending

    For those who point out how the death penalty stops murderers reoffending, that only applies to *convicted* murderers.

    Imagine yourself on the jury at a murder trial. You have to determine if the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If you know that your decision will send them to the gallows, how unreasonable do your doubts need to be before you dismiss them? The death penalty increases the risk that murderers walk free.

    It seems to me that the level of crime in different parts of the world doesn't bear much relation to the nature of the penal system. There are places with draconian systems and high crime, and places with liberal systems and low crime, and vice versa. Harsher sentences to drive down crime is one of those solutions that is "simple, obvious and wrong".

    Whatever the answer is, I don't think it involves killing people.

    1. david wilson

      @Chris Hunt

      >>"how unreasonable do your doubts need to be before you dismiss them? The death penalty increases the risk that murderers walk free."

      Probably more likely that it might push some convictions to mansalughter rather than murder, or to a lower-category murder if available, with the result that the person ends up spending less time in prison than they might have done.

      I guess that is something that having distinct conviction and penalty verdicts attempts to address in the USA, but it could still play a part even there - the accused who looks cuter (or maybe just less black or less poor) could still end up dropping a category if one or more jurors worry that if convicted of first-degree murder, the penalty judgement *might* end up going for death.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    What is going on?

    What has this got to do with us geeks who work in IT...?

    I'm struggling to see the IT angle to this article - although it's certainly proven to be popular, judging by the number of comments. It's almost as if I've stumbled upon the Daily Mail website instead of El Reg.

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