Bishop rejects death penalty as a deterrent for crime

Solution to crime is moral, not material Bishop of Trinidad argues

The Bishop of Trinidad used his Palm Sunday sermon this year to urge his country’s parliament to end capital punishment. The Rt. Rev. Claude Berkeley told the congregation of Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain on 16 April 2017 executing criminals was neither a moral or practical way of combatting crime.

Bishop Berkeley reminded Christians that God was in control, even if it appeared that the world was falling apart. “We can work around the murders, disruptions, turmoils, economic hardships, marginalisation of people, the loss of faith, the hopelessness we see on the streets,” if we place our trust in God, he said.

It is through the power of God the Christian can “look for the creativity and imagination of what is available to us, so that we can transform our city of Port-of- Spain for the greater honour and glory of God,” he said.

After the service he told Newsday the death penalty was a wrongheaded approach to solving social collapse. “Now we are seeking to address that breach of good community living by exacting murder or the penalty of death on the persons. It is shown that the death penalty is a not a deterrent to those who are of that mind,” he said.

“If you are carrying out the death penalty, you are doing what is forbidden,” he said, stating: “Thou shalt not kill.”

Capital punishment remains on the statute books of Trinidad, but the last execution was carried out in 1999. In 1999 the murder rate for the West Indian nation was 93, a number reached by the end of February in 2017.  Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj told the Sunday Guardian capital punishment was an effective deterrent.

“After we carried out the death penalty things in Trinidad and Tobago were calm everywhere, very calm, because it makes a difference to the psychology of a criminal if the person knows that if he is caught he will be convicted and if he is convicted, he will face the death sentence. If the criminals and the potential criminals know that they will get away, they would not be caught or if they are a caught they will still get away, you are not solving crime, you can’t solve it,”

Trinidad has not imposed the death penalty since the Privy Council in London ruled that prolonged delay in carrying out a sentence of death after that sentence had been passed could amount to inhuman punishment.

The root causes of crime lay in a collapse of morality that had been inculcated in prior generations through the family, churches and schools, Bishop Berkeley argued.  “In the past, the community, the school, and the church, sort of made up for weak households,” he said.

However, the decline of family structures was now so widespread, civil institutions could no longer cope. Churches and other civil society groups were seeking to reach young people at risk, but it their efforts needed to be “augmented by a governmental input.”

“I hope that Holy Week and Easter can bring a new sense of purpose to our nation and awaken many more hearts and minds to come forward to try to help our troubled situation in terms of crime, economics, and the various social issues before us,” he said.

However, the former Attorney General argued the current crime wave was due to a failure of policing. “I think one of the reasons for the high murder rate in Trinidad and Tobago and the high crime rate is that the State apparatus for fighting crime has failed.”

“In order to carry out the death penalty you first have to catch the murderer, if you do not catch the murderer you cannot hang phantom people, so in order to catch the murderer you have to improve the detection machinery and you cannot improve the detection machinery to catch the criminals if you do not have a proper forensic laboratory,” he noted.

“Here is it in Trinidad and Tobago we are dealing with a crime problem in the 21st century but we really have 18th century methods to deal with it,” Mr. Maharaj said, adding “If something is not done the crime problem will get worse.”

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