SG anti-death penalty group: Gov’t can’t prove that death penalty is the only way to deter crimes

Transformative Justice Collective (TJC), a Singaporean group that was founded in October 2020 to consolidate and share information pertaining to death row and the death penalty in Singapore, published a blog post on Wednesday (14 Oct) to discuss on Minister of Home Affairs K. Shanmugam’s statement in Parliament.

TJC referred to Workers’ Party’s Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim’s question asking Mr Shanmugam if the Government had any systematic study about the deterrent effect of or a life sentence relative to the death penalty.

The Minister of Home Affairs responded that the death penalty is a “deterrence” to crime. He asserted that the introduction of capital punishment had resulted in drops in firearms offences and kidnapping, and the reduction of net weight of trafficking in drugs like opium and cannabis.

TJC expressed that they’re troubled by his response, so much so that the Collective decided to point out several issues in regards to the Minister’s response.

The first thing noted was how the Ministry’s studies and surveys could not be accessed by the public. It was said that Mr Shanmugam had conflated evidence with the public belief of death penalty being more effective than life imprisonment in deterring crime.

TJC further questioned the Government’s claim on how the death penalty is a deterrence to crimes because it is not as straightforward as it sounds.

They suggested the complexity behind the climb or fall of crime rates, as there are many factors that have an effect on people and how they contribute to committing crimes.

The factors include, but not limited to, variables like socio-economic circumstances, education, psychosocial disabilities, and effectiveness of law enforcement.

Mr Shanmugam provided examples that specifically suggested the decrease in the average weight of opium and cannabis seized in the four years after the mandatory death penalty was introduced for trafficking over stipulated amounts of the narcotics in 1990.

However, the data of the amounts of opium and cannabis seized provided on the government website could only date back to 2003, and the data prior to 2003 could not be found. Thus, it is difficult to tell if the death penalty really contributed to the decrease in drugs seized.

Looking at the graphs provided by the Government, the deterrence of the death penalty could not be proven.

The TJC had also referred to a survey designed by Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at Oxford University and conducted by academics at the National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University, and human rights group MARUAH.

Titled “How strong is public support for the death penalty in Singapore?”, the survey found that the majority of the respondents in Singapore supported the death penalty. However, it was found that their interest in and knowledge of the death penalty was “fairly low”.

It was also revealed that the public’s support for the death penalty wavered when they were presented with a range of scenarios, suggesting that the support for the death penalty in Singapore is “not as strong as it appears”.

The blog post expressed that the Government had been presenting to the public the belief and idea of the death penalty being more effective than life imprisonment in deterring crimes, when in reality, the effectiveness could not exactly be proven.

Finally, the Group expressed their support for the nation to ensure safety and security for its citizens. But they believed that a punishment “as harsh as death penalty” cannot be maintained simply based on the “belief” that it works.

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