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June 6, 2014

How single-minded should those campaigning against the death penalty be?

Sometimes campaigners can stab each other in the back unwittingly.  In England and Wales, there has been a vociferous campaign by disability campaigners to get crime against disabled people recognised for what it is – a very serious hate crime.  But the nature of this campaign may harm the cause of penal reform and disabled people themselves.  The campaigners call for greater punishment, particularly longer prison terms, for those who commit crimes against disabled people.   This call is counterproductive

– there is no evidence that more severe punishments reduce particular crimes

– many perpetrators of crime are disabled themselves so any call for more punitive sanctions may lead indirectly to disabled offenders being punished more harshly through creating a more punitive climate.

Unfortunately, the campaign played well with the supporters of disabled charities.

In the USA there is a direct conflict between campaigners which is less easy to ignore, since it is between those in the same criminal justice sector.  Campaigners against the death penalty are very dedicated and single minded.  They have had some notable successes in getting states to abandon use of the death penalty.  But in many states they propose replacing the death penalty with life without parole, as a means of achieving their desired outcome.  Many of the states which have abandoned the death penalty give life sentences without parole instead.  Penal reformers urge anti death penalty activists not to be so single minded – not to advocate life without parole.  The National Campaign against the Death Penalty does not endorse the “trade off” between the death penalty and life without parole, but it can be a hard sell to local campaigners who are willing to compromise to achieve their ultimate goal.