I’m not sure what he’s playing at, but Tony Abbott made some very strange comments about capital punishment. The Drum discussed it lightly here.
It’s sort of weird that I’m in favour of capital punishment for certain crimes — most certainly for serial rape and paedophilia — in an age where it strikes us as intuitively cruel and barbaric. The problem with the discourse on the death penalty — indeed, the problem with most contemporary discourses — is that one side of the argument is made up of enlightened people with facts and the other side of the argument is made up of people shaking pitchforks and setting windmills on fire. It worries me that conservatism has largely devolved to the latter. So it becomes important for conservatives who aren’t narrow-minded, reactionary nitwits to express themselves well.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to express my position on the death penalty particularly well. It has a lot to do, I guess, with having to fight my intuition that death is a bad thing.
In a nutshell, my position is this: ‘I am in favour of the death penalty in principle, but we do not have an adequate legal system to support its use.’
The mentally handicapped, the poor, and minorities are overwhelmingly penalised in legal systems where people can spend their way to reduced punishment. If I can afford an excellent lawyer, I’m in a much better position to reduce my sentence than the person who committed the same offence but couldn’t afford my lawyer. And that’s worrying. When we start talking about executing people, it’s worrying that we’re discussing particularly vulnerable people. Given the choice between having a systematic prejudice towards imprisoning a group and a systematic prejudice towards executing a group, the former has to succeed. This isn’t a criticism of the death penalty so much as a criticism of the legal system in general.
In principle, the just and humane society would prefer the death penalty over life imprisonment (assuming those are the only two options). The problem I have with life imprisonment is that it’s a slower execution: it’s death by incarceration. If you are sentenced to life imprisonment and you become ill, if a doctor cures you, they’ve extended your sentence.
Further, life imprisonment is as irreversible as the death penalty. If you incorrectly sentence a person to life imprisonment and the error is revealed fifteen years later, they’ve missed out on fifteen years of their life which they can’t get back simply by being released. Their kids will have grown up, family and friends might have passed away, &c., &c. They can never get that back. Then again, I don’t support life imprisonment or the death penalty in any situation in which there is even slight room for error.
But when Abbott says that he is rather fond of the death penalty, I can’t help but fear that the usual incoherent rabble of so-called ‘conservatives’ will turn this into a blood lust fest.