Does the death penalty deter criminals?

On 13 Aug., 1969, the death penalty (or capital punishment) came to an end in England. For the first time ever, no one would be sentenced to death anymore on English Shores for committing the crime of murder. Although the death penalty remained on the Statute Book for many years after, it was never used for the crime of murder.

To answer the title of this article, it would do well if we gazed back into the past, at a time when capital punishment was used on English soil as an example as to whether it was a deterrent or not. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, like anywhere else in the world, there was and has always been horrific murders. Those murders, when people read about them in the local and national press, stunned the nation. Indeed there was a time when a murder in England would have made front page news – and most of the rest of the news in the papers too. Why was this? Well, this was simply because to hear or read about a murder back then – especially during the 40s, 50s and 60s was so rare.

Indeed, the local and national press in the past was nowhere near the amount of media we have now, with 24 hour news and such like. So, any hint of news about a murder would have soon spread like wildfire. Yes, even back then news and rumours spread despite the absence of computers or Internet. But because of the lack of news agencies that happened to be around back then, it does not stand to reason that there were so few murders?

In fact, there could well have been many more murders than we had first envisaged. And here we get to the crux of the matter. That because of the lack of so many news agencies around in the past, would it have been possible for people to have got away with murder? It surely would have.

Although many murderers were caught, and sentenced to death, it is probable that many more were not brought to justice simply because of the lack of means in which to find and bring to justice those who did the crime. Painstaking detective and police work would have had to have been done in order to bring those guilty to justice, and yet two problems pop up here. The first problem was the fact that even though capital punishment existed on English soil in the past, murder still happened. It seemed like the death penalty did not deter people at all from killing.

In fact it rather acted like some sort of spur, in which some of those who committed the crime of murder would murder again, to see whether or not they could beat the hangman’s noose. That is not to say that this happened all of the time, but in some instances it did. The other problem with the death penalty and the biggest threat against it and which eventually turned the tide against it – was the fact that innocent people where being judged and sentenced to death by hanging.

In many cases guilty verdicts where being handed down to those who were completely innocent of all crime, and one such case was the one which involved Timothy Evans and John Reginald Christi (Christi was the murderer in this case and escaped execution for the time being). The Evans case, was the one that suspended and finally ended the death penalty in England for good.

Even at a time when capital punishment was the ‘norm’ in England, murders still continued to happen. The death penalty was no deterrent at all, and it certainly wasn’t an effective way of stopping crime and murder. To re-introduce Capital Punishment in England, would not make a difference to murderous crimes here as they would still happen. If people wanted to murder, then nothing, certainly not the Death Penalty, would put them off from doing so.

America has the death penalty, yet has that stopped people from murdering others? It doesn’t seem so as the crime of murder in that country goes on unabated, despite the penalty of losing their life in the electric chair, or by a lethal injection to their arm. Saying that, here in the United Kingdom the majority of the population want capital punishment back. They feel it was a mistake to have ever abolished it in the first place.

However, this simply will not happen. Members of the Houses of Parliament went against the majority of the population of the land and voted against bringing capital punishment back now, despite the technology of DNA and computers to help now. Capital punishment will never again return to these shores as successive government have refused point blank to listen to the general public in wanting it back.

But even if it came back, capital punishment will never ever deter those who set out to murder others. It was supposed to act as some kind of deterrent but it failed miserably in the past. As for poor Timothy Evans, well it was too late for him now, but he was granted a Royal Pardon in 1965 and his remains were exhumed from the prison at Pentonville to be reburied in sacred ground at St Patrick’s Cemetery at Leytonstone.

To sum up, the argument as to whether capital punishment is a deterrent and would make people think twice is, at best, weak. As written earlier in this article murders still happened, even when the death penalty was around, so therefore it could not possibly have acted as a deterrent.

If people are determined enough to commit the crime of murder, then no matter what, they will find a way of doing so. In fact, police have now DNA technology available, yet knowing that we have that kind of technology you would think those who murdered in the recent past would have had second thoughts…but no, the urge was there within them and they carried out the act.

It just would not make a difference either way, if capital punishment was brought back to the shores of the UK. Indeed, it may satisfy the majority of people, but would it act as a deterrent? The answer to that has to be no.