When you switch on the evening news, it can feel like it’s flooded with stories about domestic abuse, terrible murders, terror attacks, and other brutal events.
Sometimes you may even ask—what has happened to the world?
Some people say that weaker deterrents for criminals is to blame, with short sentences in ‘cushy’ jails doing little to curb crime. But others argue that countries that do dole out harsher penalties – for example, the US still has the death penalty in some states – don’t necessarily have lower crime rates.
In Australia, the death penalty was last carried out in 1967 and it was wiped from all state and territory statute books by 1984.
That’s not something, though, that all Australians are happy about.
In 2005 a Bulletin poll showed that most Australians approved of bringing capital punishment back, and in 2007 an electoral survey by The Australian National University’s found that 44 per cent of people approved of the death penalty, versus 38 per cent who didn’t approve.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott helped fuel debate on the issue, saying in 2010 that although he had “always been against the death penalty”, he believed that it may be the only appropriate punishment for someone ”who cold-bloodedly brought about the deaths of hundreds or thousands of innocent people”.
That’s the moral conundrum that many Australians find themselves in.
While many believe that the death penalty is inhumane for crimes like drug use and theft, they also feel that some crimes and criminals still deserve a more biblical ‘eye for an eye’ approach.
Some point out that it’s unfair that terrorists, torturers, and pedophiles should live out their years behind bars with access to food, shelter, and entertainment — all on the taxpayer’s dime.
Those who argue against that view, though, say that a flawed justice system is no place for a death penalty. As has been found to be the case numerous times in the US, there is the risk that a person could be executed for a crime they didn’t commit. Newsweek reported in 2014 that a staggering 144 people had been exonerated after their executions since 1973 in America.
Others say that having the death penalty lowers society as a whole to the level of murderer.