Death penalty no deterrent to crime, says expert

By LIAM NGOBENI Time of article published Sep 9, 2019

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Pretoria - Bringing back the death penalty would be the same as recreating past injustices and targeting predominantly poor people.

This is according to rape and violence law expert Lisa Vetten, who told the Pretoria News that reinstating the death penalty would be hard from a legal point of view due to the fact that it was unconstitutional.

Calls for the death penalty multiplied last week following increased reports of femicide in the country, with the most recent outcry coming after UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered.

“There is no research to substantiate or support the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime or violence. If we want to do it for vengeful or retributory reasons we have to really ask ourselves if that kind of stance isn’t part of the reason why we have a problem of violence and crime in SA anyway.”

She said using violence to address the scourge of crime in the country was not the way to go. “We already have a problem of violence in the country, and in this instance even if it is legally state-sanctioned murder, it is still violence.

“I have done extensive research on men who kill their partners and most think their violence is justified. I think we have to find ways to stop justifying violence; also you cannot pick and choose who to apply the death penalty to.”

She said it could indirectly affect people which it was never intended it to affect. “During the early 2000s a woman killed her abusive partner, it was a premeditated murder and she did it with the assistance of two other men and she was sentenced to death.

“It is these sort of scenarios that make the death penalty seem a bit harsh because there is no picking and choosing where to apply it.”

She said another gripe she had with the death penalty was that it would most likely affect predominantly poor people, more especially the black and coloured population.

“Looking around the world where it's being used, poor men are the ones mostly hanged because they do not have the money for fancy legal assistance.

“We would be simply continuing those kind of injustices and they would be distributed in a racialised manner, so no the death penalty isn't the answer even if we are angry and outraged.”

Added to that, Vetten said looking at the US where the death penalty was still enforced, it costs more. “From research, the death penalty costs more, because you have to make sure that you are not murdering an innocent person and put in extensive checks, measures and all evidence must be properly heard and that is quite costly.”

Debunking the usually punted rhetoric that once one does time in prison they are more likely to come back and commit some even more heinous crimes, Vetten said there was no evidence to support it.

There was no evidence that supports that people committed crimes and go to jail only to come back and commit bigger crimes; that was not the case. “Sure, we see high-profile cases where it happens and think it’s always the case.

“We need to think of our attitudes to offenders because people come out of prison and cannot find a job and are treated as social pyros and their families mostly turn their backs on them, they (are) under skilled because prison doesn't offer much so how do they get reintegrated back into society. Where do they start?”

She said the quality of rehabilitation programmes in prison also needed to be looked at.

“Psychologists and social workers are not readily available to these prisoners and we need to question how they are assessed prior to being released.”

She said there was no silver bullet and some measures may seem like they will work but they do not.

“In the US a young girl was kidnapped and murdered and there was an outcry and they created a sex offender registry system which required sex offenders to register when they move to or go somewhere.

“It has made no difference whatsoever in reducing the number of sex offenders, so some interventions are just a waste of time and money. Often the things you think will work usually don’t.”

She said the argument that the death penalty would scare criminals and result in crime dropping was a farce. “In the 80s when the death penalty was still enforced was crime low? No. Even though statistics from the SAPS were bad then and former homelands were left out, crime stats show crime was rising.

“So the argument that murdering people will help is too simple.

“Wrongfully convicted people would just be murdered for nothing and it would be a waste of resources; we should be rather fixing the whole justice system,” said Vetten.

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