Caribbean Death Penalty Research Blog

Hello and welcome to the blog of the Caribbean Death Penalty Research website.

This area of the website provides a space for people to contribute their own perspectives and add their voices and experience to the debate on the death penalty in the Caribbean. The blog will bring together the views of people such as those working in the criminal justice system, human rights campaigners, academics who study the death penalty, people who work in the media, and people affected by the death penalty system in the Caribbean. It will draw together these diverse perspectives to create a 360˚ impression of the death penalty in the Caribbean.

The blog will offer space for reflection and for meaningful engagement with the issues raised by capital punishment. Contributions will touch on many of the themes which are discussed elsewhere across the website. The site is organised into sections which provide information on the death penalty under the headings: Public Opinion, Media, Human Rights, and Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The Caribbean Death Penalty Research project therefore acts as a central resource for information and research on the death penalty and as a hub for community debate and the exchange of ideas.

The Caribbean Death Penalty Research website focuses on two countries, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. These countries were chosen as both retain the mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of murder. This places these nations among a very small number of countries globally which still uphold this mandatory sentence. Trinidad and Tobago was the only country in the Americas, with the exception of the US, to impose death sentences in 2015. Outside of the US, Trinidad and Tobago also has the largest death row population. Barbados, although it has a smaller number of people on death row, like Trinidad and Tobago retains the mandatory death sentence for murder despite promises of reform. These facts can explain the focus of the website, which takes these two countries as its starting point, but which draws also on the practices and developments in other Caribbean nations.

After decades in which there had been no research on the death penalty in the Caribbean, in recent years there has been greater interest in exploring the various aspects of the death penalty regime. Three pieces of research carried out by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal, in particular, offered information for the first time on the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago.

Hood and Seemungal’s research has flagged issues of real concern. The research has demonstrated serious failings in how the Trinidadian criminal justice system processes murder cases and in the capability of the police and the legal system to detect and prosecute suspects. This ensures that those sentenced to death for murder are those unlucky few who are convicted under an arbitrary and unfair system. Hood and Seemungal’s research on public opinion also questions the received wisdom that the death penalty enjoys overwhelming support in Trinidad and Tobago by demonstrating that this is subject to many caveats and qualifications. While many people express support for the mandatory death sentence for murder, this support diminishes when people are shown examples of murder cases and asked to select the most appropriate sentence. In addition to this, many of those working in the criminal justice system as lawyers or judges are not in favour of the mandatory death sentence and believe it is an excessive and disproportionate sentence which makes it harder to achieve a murder conviction. These pieces of research have begun the necessary work of finding out who is sentenced to death, and how people feel about the death penalty.

However, there remains a lack of information on the death penalty in the Caribbean. The website provides a resource which seeks to bridge this knowledge gap. As part of this project, the website provides an online survey which will offer people an opportunity to express their views on the death penalty in the Caribbean. This research will further contribute to what is known about the mandatory death sentence in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, but also on opinions about the death penalty across the Caribbean. As the research conducted by Hood and Seemungal has shown, research of this nature can question long-held assumptions about the death penalty, and offers new perspectives on a frequently taken for granted system that is often presumed to be both effective and grounded in popular support.

To this end, the website represents a further step in the increased momentum to critically investigate the death penalty in the Caribbean, and to understand its place in Caribbean culture.

 

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