The story of Anthony Ray Hinton is one which highlights the risks of the death penalty and the racism which means that even though African American and Hispanics make up just 36% of the population they make up 56% of the prison population in the USA. He spent 28 years on death row for two murders he didn’t commit.
When you have to give the different points of view about capital punishment (the death penalty) an often mentioned argument is that innocent people might get unjustly killed. Anthony Ray Hinton’s story gives much weight to this opinion.
With the most recent figures putting the population of inmates in England and Wales at 85,523 – an increase of almost 90% since the 1990s, there are calls to reduce the number of people in our prisons. The Prison Reform Trust calculates that an average of 20,000 prisoners are held in overcrowded conditions in England and Wales. Such overcrowding can seriously reduce the chances of rehabilitating prisoners.
We’re lucky to have an Amnesty International Youth Group at school where students on Wednesdays after school in Room 8 can meet, discuss, learn and take decisive action on Human Rights issues happening all around the world.
If you’re feeling that world events are spiralling in to a dangerous position of racism, discrimination and intolerance, perhaps a visit to the Amnesty group might allow you a place to safely voice your fears and learn how to take action.
The 2016 AQA Religious Studies Morality paper had a question asking students whether criminals who receive a life sentence should stay in prison for their whole life. Students exam answers gave both points of view and then arrived at a conclusion which showed the students’ point of view. Well today in the news European judges have agreed that British courts can give prison sentences which say ‘life means life’ for the most disgusting crimes, such as mass murder.
Life should mean life – it protects the rest of the society from a dangerous criminal; a harsh sentence will deter other from committing a similar crime; it is retribution for the victim and victim’s family that the criminal loses their freedom forever; the Christian ideas of an eye for eye, tooth for tooth from the Old Testament implies an evil act should be met with a hard punishment.
Criminals should be released eventually – there should be the opportunity for reform; some Christians think that only God will judge our sins like in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats; Christians believe that Jesus taught forgiveness by dying on the cross so everyone’s sins are forgiven; “forgive them father for they know not what they do” is a key quote from the Bible which shows that people are sinful due to their free will and so should be forgiven (which Lauren Hill sang about); and the old favourite from the Parable of the Good Samaritan “love thy neighbour”!
A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice which analysed data on roughly 1.5 million US prisoners concluded that for one in four, drug treatment, community service, probation or a fine would have been a more effective sentence than a custodial sentence (prison). In our GCSE Religious Studies when we study the causes of crime, the aims of punishment and the types of punishment available, it might be worth considering whether the aim of protection and the resulting use of prisons is actually the right one: “While it may have seemed like a reasonable approach to protect the public, a comprehensive examination of the data proves it is ineffective at that task” says the study.
The former Swiss president and chair of the commission, Ruth Dreifuss, told the Guardian: “Politicians should show and prove to the people that what they are doing is to save the lives of these people and bring them to the health services they need to avoid overdoses and to create a climate so when these people are in need, they are able to find help.”
The report explains that even though most of the world has punitive harsh measures to try and deter people taking drugs the world has actually seen a 33% increase in the number of 15-64 year olds taking drugs in the last twelve months in the time period 2003-2014.
Do you think Britain should decriminalise drug taking and possession? Or do we need strict laws on drugs for the protection of British citizens?