I read with keen interest a news article on modernghana.com some few months ago on the abolishment of death penalty in Ghana and I was impressed with the steps taken by the authorities.
In fact, I have had the opportunity to also read some of the several letters which have been copied to the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice by the German section of Amnesty International, led by Ortrun Poettering and other stakeholders, who are advocating and making sure that Ghana abolishes death penalty.
As I try to submit my opinion on this controversial issue of death penalty I am aware that some of my readers may disagree with me. Some may argue that my comparism of different criminal or justice administration systems is a bit “shaky” as we all have our unique cultures, laws etc.
Experts in social psychology may also say that life imprisonment without parole is death penalty administered over a person's life time which is slow and prolonged.
Others may also be considering the total cost to Ghana for keeping let's say, a 25-year-old life prisoner until his death at age of say 65.
But then, has death penalty served as a deterrent?
In my view the answer is No! This is because research has shown that most people who commit murder either do not expect to be caught or do not carefully weigh the options of a possible execution and life in prison before they act.
Often, murders are committed in moments of passion or anger, or by criminals who are substance abusers, acting impulsively.
Death penalty can be described as the judicially-ordered execution of a prisoner as punishment for a serious crime, often called a capital offence or a capital crime.
In countries where there is the practice of capital punishment, it is restricted to a small number of criminal offences, principally treason and murder. Prisoners who have been sentenced to death are usually segregated from other prisoners in a special part of the prison, pending their execution.
It is common to hear people say that society has always used punishment to discourage would-be criminals from unlawful action and since society has the highest interest in preventing murder, it should use the strongest punishment available to deter murderers, and that is the death penalty.
It is also believed that if murderers are sentenced to death and executed, potential murderers will think twice before killing, for fear of losing their own life.
Death penalty imposes an irrevocable sentence. Once a person is executed, nothing can be done to make amends if it is realised later that a mistake has been made. There is considerable evidence that many mistakes have been made in sentencing people to death.
In a recent case of a man who was scheduled to be executed, after the system of appeals had rejected his legal claims it was discovered that one witness had lied at the original trial; the investigators were able to find the true killer, who confessed to the crime on videotape.
The innocent man who was released was very fortunate, he could have been killed for an offence he did not commit.
According to a friend, who happens to be a criminologist, death penalty has the opposite effect, that is, society is brutalised by the use of the death penalty and this brings about the likelihood of more murder.
Even most supporters of the death penalty now place little or no weight on deterrence as a serious justification for its continued use.
Studies conducted in the United States, Canada and Europe revealed that countries that do not employ the death penalty generally have lower murder rates than countries that do.
The U.S., with the death penalty, has higher murder rates than the countries of Europe or Canada, which do not use the death penalty.
In other arguments, death penalty is seen as revenge, that is to say, inflict immediate pain on someone who wrongs us but for me that is not the standards of a mature society like Ghana.
Revenge is not sufficient justification for operating a system of capital punishment with all its accompanying problems and risks.
Our laws and criminal justice system should lead us to higher principles that demonstrate complete respect for life, even the life of a murderer.
It is now a known fact that most Presidents are reluctant to sign death warrants because they want to avoid having the blood of the executed person on their hands or upon their heads.
From my personal reflections, I would like to encourage the abolishment of death penalty and rather suggest life sentences without parole.
Prisoners who are given this sentence would never be released.
By substituting death penalty with life sentence without parole, we meet society's needs of punishment and protection without running the risk of an erroneous and irrevocable punishment.
Thus, the safety of society can be assured without using the death penalty.
The notion of an eye for an eye, or a life for a life, is a simplistic one which our society has never endorsed.
We do not allow torturing the torturer or raping the rapist. Taking the life of a murderer is a similarly disproportionate punishment.
What do you think?
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By Charles Nii Ayiku