Once again a highly publicized sordid crime has triggered public outrage and calls for reinstatement of the death penalty in the electronic and print media.

While it is natural for individuals to react emotionally to human tragedy it is important for the government to make policy decisions based on the likelihood of achieving desired results. Studies carried out over the past many years have failed to show that executions significantly reduce the murder rate. In fact, studies in some death penalty jurisdictions have shown that a disproportionate number of executed murderers had scars from previously self-inflicted wounds, leading to the conclusion that some suicidal individuals actually commit murder in order to have the State accomplish what they are unable to do themselves, namely: put an end to their sorry existence.

Thus, when invoking the popular justification for the death penalty – that it is a punishment which fits the crime and therefore is just and equitable, particularly to the families of victims – it is important to consider the real possibility of causing anguish to those potentially suffering the same loss as a result of misguided policies. Does anyone seriously question the contribution of violence and sex in the media to the rate of violent sexual offences? How can this effect be disproved without first reducing the level of this kind of material in the media? Instead of further increasing the level of violence by having the government contribute to it why not try first to reduce the public’s exposure to it? Ironically, the idea of censorship is inimical to left wing abolitionists while sitting well with right wing death penalty advocates!