Is This Proof We Are Wrong about the Death Penalty? AS AMERICA SHOWS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT DOES WORK

Article excerpt


YESTERDAY was a good one for murderers. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, signed away Parliament's right to bring back hanging.

By endorsing the Sixth Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain will be unable to reopen the debate on capital punishment, without first amending the Human Rights Act now enshrined in British law.

Among everything Britain has signed away to Europe, the right to reintroduce the death penalty may be the one that is regretted most, especially by victims of future murderers.

Britain's decision to move an almost irrevocable step away from capital punishment comes as opposition to the death penalty has fallen sharply in America, after a remarkable drop in the murder rate, down by one-third over ten years.

Evidence in the U.S. suggests capital punishment has a profound deterrent effect when implemented swiftly and backed by effective policing which makes it much more likely a murderer will be caught and sentenced to death.

Some 38 U.S. states now have the death penalty which is supported by 80 pc of Americans. Of the remaining 12 states, eight will probably soon reintroduce capital punishment, encouraged by results from states that have brought back the execution chamber in the past ten years.

New York State reintroduced capital punishment in 1995.

Since then the number of murders has fallen by over 50 pc.

New York City, which had more than 1,200 murders in 1994, had just over 500 last year, the lowest level since the Sixties.

Dealers The numbers are a sharp contrast to the late Seventies when, after capital punishment was suspended, the number of armed robberies where the victim was killed soared.

New York prosecutors say they are delighted to have the death penalty as a new weapon in their arsenal. The District Attorney for Queens, which once had New York City's highest murder rate, recently said the death penalty was worth 'a battalion of extra cops' in keeping murders in check.

Police officers in New York say they have noticed a change. Anyone from drug dealers to car thieves is less likely to carry guns.

Many say they don't want to be tempted to use them, now the death penalty is back.

Police sources say one recent case is having a particularly strong deterrent effect. Scott Schnierderman, an unemployed stockbroker, robbed his father then killed a police offi-

rates, criminals know their chances of ending up in jail are better than 60 pc. If potential murderers know the risk of apprehension is so high and that, once caught, they could be executed, it seems they are likely to think far more than twice.

Statistic Since 1976, when executions were restored by the Supreme Court, 500 murderers have been dispatched in the U. S. Critics of the death penalty once claimed there was no correlation between the number of executions in a state and a fall in the homicide rate. They would especially point at Texas and Virginia, the states with the most people on death row and the highest number of executions.

Indeed, from 1988 to 1991, the murder rate in Texas rose by 25 pc, a statistic often quoted by those who want to spare even the most brutal killers.

Yet during these years justice in Texas was far from swift. A condemned killer could waste millions of dollars, and on average eight years of court time, cer who tried to prevent his escape.

Within three months Schnierderman was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. …