By R.D. Miller
How Did We Get Here: Crime is ubiquitous, regardless of the basic system of government, pure democracy, absolutism, or oligarchical. Managing criminals remains a wedge issue, especially in countries that have automatic death penalty, as studies have shown.
The ongoing struggles in a few dominant Caribbean islands, especially Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, and others with high capital crime rates, have seen a softening mentality to bring back hanging, hoping that it will cut crime.
Both advocates for and against capital punishment agree that it is a delicate balance in the region where public opinion can quickly drive policies. They argue that new rules tend to limit personal freedom, challenge human rights, and erode confidence, where there is little or no oversight on how the nation applies punishment.
For decades, homicide rates and other violence have not been reduced much before hanging faced several pushbacks from human rights organizations, shifting views that it is as barbaric as the crime committed by an offender. As a result, with mounting pressure some of these islands have implemented a moratorium.
The alternative is to commute sentences to life in prison even in aggravated murders.
The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) has always been calling for a stop to the death sentence. And, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), it has advised to abolish or at least impose a moratorium on its application.
Revisiting History: Hanging is not new to society. Sadly, despite the deterrence implication, hanging has not always been for the condemned man. Several slaves who tried to escape their masters, or by hate groups simply for one being different have faced the rope.
It has also claimed victims because of sexual orientation, stemming from homophobia.
In the 1800s, most hanging took place in the public, and the community celebrated. Today, given the crime waves on these shores, how many would show up if hanging were to be held in the local parishes?
The scars from colonization have also left few mentally hanged from what is believed to poor economic rope despite modernization and independence. It is not an argument that today’s criminals are still linked to policies that are perhaps no different from hanging because they were simply an economic death.
Unforgiving Cord: It is an organized strangulation. This loss of consciousness makes death imminent. It is dependent upon the knot positioning and the length of drop, which has varied through the history of hanging.
According to several journals, hanging can range from head and neck injuries. When this occurs, compression or rupture of the vertebral and carotid arteries leads to cerebral ischaemia.
What has emerged recently is not a new structural push. The last hanging based on reports in Jamaica took place in 1998. Today, most polls show that Jamaicans welcome hanging as other parts of the Caribbean.
It sends a strong message that the society will not tolerate barbaric criminals.
Scholars also noted that, even in Jamaica’s final appellate court, it has consistently upheld submissions from defence attorneys for hangings to be commuted to life imprisonment
As the region struggles with just desserts, and incapacitation, or simply an eye for an eye justice, few will admit publicly that crime threatens not only the basic pursuit of happiness on the beautiful shores, and inside the green communities, but the overall economy that thrives on a global good reputation to attract visitors.
The Politics of Hanging: Capital punishment tends to be fought on both political and moral grounds despite an offender’s action.
When then opposition leader Andrew Holness ran his election campaign, he promised to be tough on crime. He is not alone calling for more drastic measures to fight crime. This push is not what rope will be used after an election, but a test to the limits of government, balance to the rule of law, freedom, human rights, the constitutional challenge and, simply, willingness to fulfill a political promise.
Despite opposition to this push to reinstate hanging, the ongoing killings need an answer.
The question remains can hanging solve that issue where there is still limitation on many fronts. The criminogenic circumstances are rising while opportunities and treatment for high risk offenders have disappeared.
First, the ability to find an offender and properly gather and maintain evidence is key to even conduct an impartial trial. Many still see a corrupt system with limited resources.
It is often plagued with questions about an accused from both sides of the judicial process than the final outcome of a condemned person.
Furthermore, how does a society change a decade of mentality? Even when exculpatory evidence is introduced it will take time to reverse an atmosphere of doubts from the history of distrust in government and its ability to do basic functions.
Preventing Wrongful Execution: No one is implying that anyone charged with a criminal offense does not have the right to a hearing, or the courts themselves are incapable of conducting a trial or operating under a tree in primitive conditions. However, there still remains ambiguity in some of the rule applications.
Amnesty International reports that far too often some defendants do not have “prompt access” to counsel or representation at all stages of a trial. Therefore, one can be deprived of proper representation.
Sometimes the victims are against this practice, and what weight would be given to their rejections. Often they are being re-victimized, and lost in the debates.
What if this person has mental illnesses?
According to recent studies, nearly 44 million American adults, and millions of children, experience mental health conditions each year, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress.
What are the numbers in the Caribbean?
US President Barack Obama, in trying to highlight this issue, signed a proclamation on mental health.
Despite tools to diagnose someone with mental health, disparities and access to healthcare is a major problem, and people both in and out of the criminal justice system often go unnoticed.
Not all offenders who commit crimes are mentally ill.
Furthermore, changing an attitude about mental illness, where it is much easier to label a person a mad man/woman based on appearance, and where they sleep at nights.
This is what I call the appearance conviction
The lack of psychological and other analytical assessments to diagnose to make sure that an insane person is even capable of standing trial before one’s ultimate fate seems lacking.
As studies have shown, capital punishment does not reduce crime. The region has to look at not only creating opportunities for the youths, but also closing the gaps between the haves vs the have-nots.
The salient jury where few still believe that freedom is more likely for person with the deepest pocket and well connected.
Where is the local debate and demand from the community to be heard and not a few tweets while the ability to solve crime still is an elusive concept.
What Next: Although Amnesty International has been proactive on few appeals and in conjunction with other human rights committees, it constantly finds violations, and these processes still need fundamental work, and to make sure one receives the support required to mount a challenge.
As these criminal elements continue, maybe a three strikes law will be the next recommendation, but one has to be able to solve the first crime and maintain good criminal records.
Sure, no one wants to live in fear, but new crime strategy has to balance power with victims’ rights, and a political, moral or social compass, and all measures have been taken.
Solving these issues is important and, leaders have to become more proactive in developing fundamental economic plans that will cut the appetite for criminals. This debate remains an uncomfortable feeling