The USA is just about the only western country to have kept capital punishment. I have written on this topic before on Capital Punishment. I have noticed in various articles that prison facilities concerned with executing people who are condemned to death are unable to find the drugs used for a “humane” lethal injection. Here is an article from the viewpoint of an Orthodox priest.
The Americans have always been bunglers and have always made the worst decisions in matters of this kind. It involves a lot of hypocrisy, between giving the appearance of killing humanely and the frequent lack of professionalism in the matter. It is not as if there was not the example of British or French efficiency. The English hangman was highly skilled and did the job properly every time. The French guillotine did its job reliably – as long as there was no error in assembling the apparatus. If the Americans really wanted to kill “humanely”, it suffices to make the condemned person breathe pure nitrogen.
The other approach, of course, is eye for eye – using a barbaric, gruesome and spectacular method like before the French Revolution to cause maximum suffering. I hardly imagine people these days buying tickets to see a hanging, drawing and quartering at Tyburn, but perhaps human nature has changed less than we imagine!
Perhaps the greatest argument against capital punishment is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. Their criminal justice has big holes in it. Many inmates on Death Row have been found to be innocent on more thorough investigation of the evidenced used to condemn them. People commit very evil deeds, and the apologist of the death penalty reminds us about the victim of a crime having been wronged in the first place. That has to be understood, but is it right to render evil for evil?
One man is particular importance in this question, one who was not a lawyer but England’s official hangman. Albert Pierrepoint (see the film by finding it in parts here or buy the DVD) came to the conclusion that the death penalty was only revenge. It is useless as a deterrent and has not prevented a single murder. He wrote:
The fruit of my experience has this bitter after-taste: that I do not now believe that any of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.
Those who are opposed to capital punishment, as I am, are often accused of lacking compassion for the victims of murder, rape and other violent crimes. Perhaps some criminals can be rehabilitated after long prison sentences, but most very evil ones can only be removed from society permanently. We are brought to think of the worst psychopaths, serial killers and child rapists who show not the slightest remorse for what they did. It seems logical to kill them – but where is the line drawn between them and someone who committed a crime de passion and got a raw deal at his trial?
The usual alternative to death is life imprisonment, either literally – until the prisoner dies – or for something like twenty to thirty years followed by a long period of parole. Prisons are also very heavy financially on the taxpayer. Is it right for such people to live on taxpayers’ money?
Another alternative is re-establishing the penal colonies. The problem is that they were originally established by countries with extensive empires like the UK and France. No independent country nowadays wants someone else’s trash and dangerous criminals on their doorstep! England had Botany Bay in Australia and the French had Guyana and Devil’s Island. In the old days, a convict was sentenced to a time in prison, which was followed by an equal amount of time as a colonist and working in the general interest. He earned his living and lived in extremely harsh conditions. Many of us have seen the film Papillon with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Here is another article worth reading – French Guiana and New Caledonia: How Much of the Myth Was Reality?
Even in the nineteenth century, the essential purpose of penal colonies and prisons was debated between the destruction of the convict’s possibility to offend and the possibility of rehabilitating him into society.
French government and the prison administrations never resolved the contradiction between the desire to rehabilitate the bagnards and to give them a new start in life and the desire to punish. But this contradiction continues to be prevalent in the criminal justice systems of many countries, particularly the United States.
Are there not enough islands in the Pacific to send those prisoners to? Make sure they can’t escape and leave them to get on with it with the one proviso that if they build a boat to get off the island, they’ll be blown out of the water… An alternative for the Americans might be somewhere in the middle of the Nevada Desert. Hawaii? The essential would be a facility that pays for itself and is sufficiently remote to reduce the possibility of successful escape to the minimum.
Perhaps it’s just another method of execution and revenge. On the other hand, if the penal colony system was modernised and brutality replaced with creative possibilities for convicts to find redemption in some way, that might be more the thing to do.