The Death Penalty- Right or Wrong?


The death penalty has always been a divisive subject, with people on opposing sides passionately defending their opinions on the matter. So should we look at reinstating the death penalty in Australia?

To me, it has always been a simple answer. I don’t believe in the death penalty. Yes, my religion plays a part in this, but in this piece I won’t be delving into that part of my objection. I will be writing from a personal, ethical point of view.

First, the nature of the crime needs to be established. Obviously it would only be considered in the most depraved crimes.

When a heinous crime is committed, someone has to pay. I have no problem with this concept at all. If you commit a crime, there are consequences, plain and simple. What I DO have a problem with is the death penalty itself.

Over the years, many innocent people have been put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. Science has evolved and DNA evidence has been able to posthumously clear the name of several people who were wrongly convicted, and wrongly killed.

But what about people like Ivan Milat who we know is guilty of sickening, serial torture and murder? Plenty of people would be happy to see him dead, and I understand that. I really do. Milat has never shown remorse, repeatedly smiling at news cameras, smug and self-satisfied. What his victims endured is something we will never fathom. And I have no doubt there are more out there, yet to be found.

If Australia had the death penalty, and chose to use it with Milat, I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands of people would be cheering on hearing of his execution. But to me – it’s too easy. Why should he be ‘put to sleep’ and not have to be punished? I don’t think the death penalty is actually a punishment. I think it is the easy way out for the offender.

I would rather see them spend their lives in a small and basic cell with nothing but time to reflect on what they’ve done and have access to the bare essentials. I am tired of a ‘life’ sentence in Australia usually being no more than 25 years. Life should mean exactly that.

My other objection to the death penalty is that in executing a criminal, we are stooping to their level – taking a life. Who are we to decide who should and shouldn’t die? What if we get it wrong? What if Australia had the death penalty when Lindy Chamberlain was wrongly convicted?

On April 28, 1996, Australia was plunged into infamy when Martin Bryant killed 35 people in the world’s (then) largest mass murder by a single person. He is serving 35 life sentences, plus 1035 years for other charges relating to one of the darkest chapters in our history. Bryant has also been diagnosed with several serious psychiatric disorders as well as being intellectually impaired. His mental age is thought to be that of an 8-year-old child.

He pled guilty to the crimes committed at Port Arthur, and has since attempted suicide 6 times. A cell had to be custom built at Risdon prison to stop him from achieving his goal of killing himself with differing methods. He is now serving the rest of his sentence in the psychiatric institution for the criminally insane. Sometimes I have wished they would have let him do it – but does that mean I am contradicting myself?

I don’t believe the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. Statistics show it doesn’t lower crime rates. I do believe, however, that the Australian judicial system is, at times, extremely soft. Criminals who have raped and murdered, criminals who have abused and tortured children are given ‘life’ sentences – with a non-parole period. Shouldn’t the very notion of a ‘life’ sentence mean that parole is never going to be an option?

I also think that if you have committed a serious, pre-meditated crime (or crimes) and have shown no remorse (take Ivan Milat as an example) then you should not have the right to anything more than a bed, toilet and possibly a desk in your cell.

No television, no access to daily newspapers – no setting it up like a cozy, personalized home. These people aren’t 5 year olds who have been sent to their rooms, many are savage, predatory and perverse. They shouldn’t have the right to make their cell a warm, comforting place.

In my opinion, the death penalty is the easy option. I don’t view a permanent sleep as punishment. I think the concept of solitary confinement with basic amenities and very few rights is more of a punishment that executing someone.

And make a life sentence really be for life. The fact that 2 of the men involved in the murder of Anita Cobby have been able to apply for parole (always denied) is farcical. They should never set foot back in society. I realize some criminals should be offered the chance to be rehabilitated, but certain crimes are too evil, too cruel, and too animalistic for the perpetrators to ever be offered the opportunity to live as free individuals.

What is your opinion on the death penalty? Should we look at reinstating it? Is ‘an eye for an eye’ the answer?

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  • John James

    I don’t support the death penalty…I don’t think we can ever justify killing another human being, no matter what they have done.

    I do support self-administered euthanasia though…and if Martin Bryant wanted to kill himself, I think he should have the right to end his life. I don’t see the point of imprisonment as punishment…how does keeping a killer in prison for 60 years help anyone? If someone chooses life-imprisonment over self-administered euthanasia, then I’ll support that too…but don’t force someone to spend 60 years in prison just to satisfy some sense of “punishment”.

    It all goes back to my basic philosophy – Do what you will, but harm none. Killing someone as punishment breaks that code…allowing someone the freedom to take their own life does not.

    If someone can’t coexist in our society without harming others, and they can’t be rehabilitated, then imprisonment is our only option…but it should not be looked upon as a punishment…that helps no one.

    • Maree Talidu

      I totally agree about the death penalty ‘breaking the code’ and think it’s a terrible way to address crime. I also agree (although it conflicts with my religious views somewhat) that Martin Bryant should be allowed to be free of the misery he suffers. After doing more research, his psychiatrist has him developmentally aged around 5. I know that there are people who believe he did not act alone, whatever the reason, the man is 100% mentally ill, if he WANTS to die, then let him?

      I guess the victims who survived and their families may find comfort in knowing he is locked up and suffering. I don’t think it would comfort me. Whereas I’m happy for Ivan Milat to sit there and gaze at his belly button till the end of time.

      I see no problem with the concept of punishment- you commit a crime, you need to suffer the consequences. My students who muck up are ‘punished’ (in a basic sense) because they know right from wrong, but choose to break rules, so consequences have to be enforced.

      I enjoyed reading your response!

  • Monique Fischle

    I am against the death penalty. I don’t believe in the whole “an eye for an eye” type mentality. There will have been so many cases where people have been executed only for evidence to arise later to suggest that they didn’t actually commit the crime. And as for those who are without a doubt guilty, why should they get the easy way out? Why not let them live out the rest of their lives in prison where they have to pay for what they have done. That probably sounds horrible but I don’t believe killing someone is the answer.

    • Maree Talidu

      It may sound horrible, but it’s basically the conclusion I came to as well. Obviously with murder there are different types- with cold blooded, pre-meditated killing, I see no reason as to why those who kill in this manner should ever have the option of living in society again.

      If it wasn’t intentional, (manslaughter etc) then yes: look at serving your time and once you are out, let it be over.

  • Tamsin Howse

    I don’t support the death penalty, but I’m also not a huge fan of imprisonment for life with no option of rehabilitation. In Norway the maximum penalty anyone can receive is 21 years. That’s it, that’s the max. And during that 21 years they can have weekends out of jail, unsupervised. They can also be eligible for release after 14 years.

    The difference is how much focus they put on rehabilitating people.

    I don’t suggest that should necessarily be brought in here, but I do think there is some merit to the idea of rehabilitation over punishment.

    • Maree Talidu

      So if this is the case in Norway, (not being a smart arse), what happens to Anders Breivik? He slaughtered over 90 people, nearly all teenagers and has shown no remorse. This happened in Oslo, he is almost proud of his efforts? To me, Norway’s judicial system sounds softer than Australia.

      I’m not against visitation or rehabilitation for certain criminals. But at the same time, in my opinion, life in prison, needs to be life.
      If you have been found guilty and deemed a risk, then there should be no life sentences that end after 25 years and have early parole options.

      • Tamsin Howse

        He gets 21 years, I believe.

        • Tamsin Howse

          However, my understanding is you can be committed to an institution for life there, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he was institutionalised.

        • Maree Talidu

          Wow. I cannot fathom that: he bombed a government building which killed people then went and gunned down innocent kids- should at least do 21 years for each death, that way he isn’t able to be paroled. Over 90 people killed? He was so methodical. Surely the fact that he also published his manifesto about why people had to die proves this was pre-meditated mass murder at its most extreme.

  • Jessica Chapman

    No one practices ‘eye for an eye’ on criminals other than murders. Thieves are not sentenced to be stolen from, rapists to be raped, tax evaders to never receive government benefits or tax returns. So why kill a murderer?

    I think imprisonment is more of a way to avoid further infringement on the rights of others. If you can’t live by our social laws then you don’t get to live in our society for a while. I do agree that there needs to be more focus on rehabilitating criminals one they’ve served their ‘time outs.’

    • Maree Talidu

      Agree with everything you said, nice call on the ‘eye for an eye’ concept.