Why the death penalty is not an answer

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With concern about terrorism escalating daily, it was inevitable that some of our politicians would call for the return of the death penalty in Australia.

It’s a curious logic that suggests that they way to respond to a ‘death cult’ that glorifies suicides bombings and widespread executions is to have Australian governments do some executions of their own.

It’s probably a good idea to start with the evidence about what effect capital punishment actually has on murder rates around the world.

Californian prison inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones is seen in this 2010 handout photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Ruling in the case of Jones, who was condemned to death in 1995 and has yet to be executed, a US judge said in July 2014 that California’s death penalty law is unconstitutional and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Reuters
Inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones is seen in this 2010 photo. Ruling in the case of Jones, who was condemned to death in 1995 and has yet to be executed, a US judge said in 2014 that California’s death penalty law is unconstitutional and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Reuters

The evidence is grim to say the least and most importantly it shows that many countries with capital punishment have murder rates far in excess of those without it.

For example, the US has capital punishment in 31 states and a murder rate of 4.5 people per 100,000 while the United Kingdom which abolished the death penalty for murder in 1965, has a rate of one per 100,000.

Guatemala, which enforces the death penalty, has a murder rate of 40 people per 100,000 in comparison to Costa Rica, which abolished the death penalty in 1887 and has a murder rate of just 10.3.

There are many more comparisons just like these which paint a clear and consistent picture indicating that the death penalty is not a deterrent.

Given that their perverted logic is that to die for their cause in whatever way possible is a fast track to heaven, Australia’s restoration of the death penalty would be music to the terrorists’ ears.

Politicians who want to play into the hands of terrorists and create grotesque public execution spectacles terrorists yearn for are both cynical and reckless.

Imagine the media circus that would follow the trial and execution of a terrorist in Australia – it would create endless publicity, debate and hysteria that would delight terrorists all over the world.

Australia’s last execution occurred in 1967. Since then, debate about the death penalty has intermittently emerged but for most Australian’s the idea of returning to such a barbaric practice is no longer acceptable.

While particular crimes elicit naturally visceral responses for revenge and punishment, for most of us the idea that our civilised and generally peaceful society would be improved by restoring the death penalty just doesn’t stack up.

In particular, our Catholic faith calls us to forgo vengeance. As Pope Francis recently said: “Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace.” We achieve this through radical forgiveness, and advocating for the respect and preservation of all human life.

It’s too easy to focus on what’s negative and forget that what we have in Australia is overwhelmingly good. Our society is diverse, peaceful and prosperous. We come from all over the world and live together in harmony.

Our governments and security services are working hard to preserve our freedoms and way of life. Their work is complex, unpredictable and constantly changing. Calls for state-sponsored violence on our own soil by reintroducing the death penalty helps no one and takes us to exactly the place we don’t want to go.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that the strongest leaders handle pressure, follow the evidence and never fall into the trap giving dangerous enemies exactly what they want. Let’s stay true to our culture and values by refusing to join the terrorists’ death penalty cult.

Related: What’s the Church’s official position on the death penalty?