Bryan Stevenson says:

I represent people on death row. It’s interesting, this question of the death penalty. In many ways, we’ve been taught to think that the real question is, do people deserve to die for the crimes they’ve committed? And that’s a very sensible question. But there’s another way of thinking about where we are in our identity. The other way of thinking about it is not, do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit, but do we deserve to kill?

In Europe, there is no death penalty, but Stevenson’s remarks should make us think about the excessive and sometimes cruel terms of imprisonment imposed – those that deny people hope altogether (whole life sentences)  or lose all sight of the crime or the individual offender in pursuit of some unachievable aim at public safety or deterrence. These sentences are supposed to be imposed on behalf of us all and this gives us a responsibility to consider whether or not they indeed represent us as we would wish.

In some parts of the USA, there are more mandatory sentences than in the UK. Another instructive quotation is this comment (quoted by Anthony Doob) from a judge in America

One day last week I had to sentence a peasant woman from West Africa to 46 months in a drug case. The result for her young children will undoubtedly be, as she suggested, devastating. On the same day, I sentenced a man to 30 years as a second drug offender …  These two cases confirm my sense of depression about much of the cruelty I have been party to in connection with the “war on drugs” ….  At the moment .. I simply cannot sentence another impoverished person whose destruction has no discernible effect on the drug trade … I am just a tired old judge who has temporarily filled his quota of remorselessness.


Excessive punishment shames us all

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