Saturday, 17 November 2012

Don't be quick to bury death penalty

NOMINATED MP Laurence Lien and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam ("Abolish death penalty, urge three MPs"; Tuesday) cited Hong Kong's drop in homicide rate after the abolition of capital punishment to question the effectiveness of using it as a deterrent.

But such a snapshot fails to reveal the larger picture. The homicide rate in Hong Kong was already in decline for a couple of years before capital punishment was formally abolished; the link between the abolition and the drop is unproven.

The drop could have been due to many other reasons, such as greater safety awareness by potential victims, improvement in crime prevention and better law enforcement.

Furthermore, Hong Kong had effectively ceased to practise capital punishment since 1966 - by automatically commuting the sentence to life imprisonment.

In the early 1960s, the homicide rate was well below one per 100,000 population.

Yet the homicide rate increased sharply for the next 10 years after 1966.

The homicide rate varied thereafter but remained above one per 100,000 into the 1990s, even after capital punishment was formally abolished.

It is illogical to conclude there is no deterrent effect for a punishment simply because the targeted crimes persist.

It is like saying that a prison sentence is no deterrent against fraud because fraud persists.

The effect of deterrence is targeted at those who behave more or less rationally.

It also depends significantly on the effectiveness of the law enforcement agency and the judiciary system.

These two factors, as well as a viable economy offering lawful opportunities, are instrumental in supporting the deterrent effect in Singapore.
Chen Junyi
ST Forum, 16 Nov 2012

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