Public Opinion on Alternatives to the Mandatory Death Penalty

Some research exists on public views on alternatives to the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.

Hood and Seemungal (2009) surveyed judges, defence counsel and prosecutors working in Trinidad and Tobago, and assessed their views on alternatives to the death penalty.

Of 16 judges, 13 favoured ‘life imprisonment with a minimum period to be served before release can be considered, including the power to order a full life sentence with no possibility of release’.

Twenty of 21 defence counsel favoured imposition of a life sentence with discretion as to release to be exercised by either an independent parole board or by a parole board with input from a judge as to minimum sentence length.

Of 13 prosecutors surveyed, 10 preferred ‘life imprisonment, with the minimum period before consideration of release being specified by the judge, including a whole life sentence’.

For those working in the criminal justice system then, the preferred alternative to the mandatory death penalty is some form of life sentence, with judicial or independent discretion as to what form this should take. The research also revealed strong support for an independent parole system, in which the judiciary set the minimum terms.

In a survey of public opinion on the death penalty (Hood and Seemungal, 2011) there was no majority of support for life without the possibility of parole as a replacement for the mandatory death penalty for murder. In total, 49.7% of respondents thought that LWOP should be the first choice of alternative to the death penalty if it were abolished. However, a combined total of 49.2% were in favour of some form of discretionary sentence, either: life imprisonment with release through a parole board (18.1%), life imprisonment through a parole board but minimum term to be set by a judge (15.3%), or determinate period of imprisonment of between 10 and 30 years without parole, to be set by the judge (15.8%).

From the media analysis, it would appear that there is some support for the introduction of life without parole. In Barbados, the Nation News editorial line favoured the abolition of the mandatory death penalty, and the introduction of the sentence of life without possibility of parole (‘Abolish death penalty’, 11 September 2015, Nation News).

Go to Alternatives to the Mandatory Death Penalty: Examples from Caribbean Countries