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'Hang even the innocent': Poll reflects growing desperation with crime
published: Sunday | February 17, 2008

Tyrone Reid, Enterprise Reporter

Participants in rapt attention during a session of the 'Men on a Mission' conference, at the Jamaica Conference Centre on the weekend. -Norman Grindley/Deputy Chief Photographer

DESPITE ACCEPTING the possibility that innocent persons could die, an increasing number of Jamaicans still want the State to resume the hanging of convicted murderers.

According to the findings of the latest Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll, 43 per cent of the persons who want the resumption of hanging seemingly believe that the wrongful death of a few innocent persons is inconsequential. A comparison between Johnson's 2006 poll results and the latest shows a 10-percentage point increase in the number of persons who are in favour of enforcing capital punishment, despite the possibility of innocent persons being wrongfully put to death.

However, 46 per cent of those in favour of the death penalty, in Johnson's latest poll, said they would withdraw their support for the controversial practice if they "knew that there is a very good chance that every now and then an innocent person would be hanged by mistake".

Johnson's latest survey of 1,008 respondents was conducted on January 12 and 13 in 84 communities islandwide. The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent, also found 79 per cent support for the resumption of hanging, representing a two-percentage point increase on the 77 per cent that was recorded in 2006.

As a result, there is a decrease in the number of persons who oppose the death penalty. Two years ago, 19 per cent of the respondents did not support the resumption of hanging, while only 18 per cent said no this time around.

Chairman of Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), Dr Carolyn Gomes, was saddened, but not surprised, by the sentiments expressed by those who were not perturbed by the strong possibility that innocent individuals could be hanged. "That's very disappointing, but not surprising, given our willingness to participate in, and support vigilante justice," she tells The Sunday Gleaner.

very sad commentary

Dr Gomes described the poll results as a very sad commentary on the thinking of many citizens. She argued that the results depicted disrespect for a basic human right: the right to life. "It shows how much work we have to do to build people's understanding of human rights and the rule of law," she stated.

"Given the creaking justice system, we would not be in favour of the resumption of hanging now," she added.

Commenting on his poll findings, Johnson says: "There is a level of frustration out there that people want something to be done and they are not necessarily thinking logically about it."

Johnson argues that pent-up frustration has caused many people to affirm the resumption of hanging. He suggests that the general spike in the support for hanging has a direct relationship with the increase in crime during the two-year period. "I think the support for the death penalty has increased as people become more and more frustrated with the seeming inability of government to do anything to stem the rise in crime and violence," the pollster reasons.

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