Mon, Mar 04, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Visiting analyst calls for end to death penalty

Peter Hodgkinson, the director of the Center for Capital Punishment Studies at Westminster University in the UK, was invited by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, the Judicial Reform Foundation and the Taipei Bar Association to visit Taiwan from Feb. 25 to Saturday to promote the idea of replacing the death penalty with a reviewable life sentence. During his stay, Hodgkinson shared his ideas on the death penalty with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Jimmy Chuang

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Peter Hodgkinson, the director of the Center for Capital Punishment Studies at Westminster University in the UK, speaks to the Taipei Times.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times (TT): When did you begin to focus on this issue?

Hodgkinson: In terms of formally having some involvement with this issue, I think maybe it was sometime back in 1992 when the Center for Capital Punishment Studies was established.

TT: What inspired you to devote yourself to study this subject? What was your previous experience relating to death penalty?

Hodgkinson: I was curious that, in the UK, we do not have the death penalty; but in Texas there is a death penalty. I was curious about the way they did it in England and what they did in Texas. Why is it that there is a death penalty? I just couldn't understand why. Then I began to get more interested in this issue at a theoretical level.

I am a frequent contributor to the British and foreign press. Prior to joining the [Westminster] university in 1989, I had worked for the Inner London Probation Service for 15 years where I developed expertise on offenders serving life sentences and those with mental disorders. I'm also an adviser on the death penalty to the Council of Europe and a member of the British Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty Panel.

TT: What does the Center for Capital Punishment Studies do?

Hodgkinson: The Center for Capital Punishment Studies is under the School of Law at the university and was established in 1992. It is regularly consulted by the media and others researching the death penalty. The center also has a library specializing in death-penalty issues, which is open to all with a scholarly interest in the subject.

TT: Do you think it's fair for the public to pay taxes to keep criminals alive in prison once the death penalty is replaced by a reviewable life sentence?

Hodgkinson: I think we really cannot get rid of our responsibilities when things go wrong. When a person commits crimes that may result in the death penalty, it will be a sign that there is something wrong with the person's family, education and society. Simply executing a serial killer does not really solve the problems caused by what he did or the problems which made him do so.

In the US, a death penalty case can cost taxpayers US$2.5 million to US$3.5 million from trial to execution. For a prisoner who has been detained for 40 years, it costs approximately US$400,000. So a reviewable life sentence is actually cheaper than the death penalty.

But the real problem is way beyond that. Why do we spend so much money to execute somebody? And even when it is time to execute the criminal, does this person really regret what she or he has done? Does it work? It would not be a smart move to put somebody in an electric chair with so much money if this person never really regrets.

TT: In your research, did you find that the state encourages criminals once there is no death penalty?

Hodgkinson: I do not have evidence for this. But just restrict your thinking to the facts of murder and homicide. In regions without the death penalty, these kinds of cases are actually not as numerous as in regions with the death penalty.

In the Philippines, there are 21 offences which can end up with the death penalty. However, as far as we can see, the crime rate there did not drop a bit because of these strict laws.

TT: What problems are faced in replacing the death penalty with reviewable life sentences?

Hodgkinson: First of all, the government must carry out a well-organized plan for replacing death penalty. It doesn't have to be a reviewable life sentence, but it has to be a sufficient penalty to "educate" the criminals.

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