It is generally stated that support for the death penalty is strong in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. That a majority of people support the death penalty has been borne out by various pieces of research on the issue, which will be reviewed in this section. This popular support for hanging has in turn been cited by politicians as the rationale behind resistance to calls for reform or abolition.
This section provides an overview of the various pieces of research which have examined attitudes to the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados and to criminal justice policies more broadly. The available research suggests that while public opinion in the two jurisdictions is in favour of the death penalty, this support is qualified and subject to many caveats.
The majority of research on public attitudes to crime and criminal justice policy emanates from Britain and the United States. However, there is a considerable volume of research from Trinidad and Tobago. One drawback of assessing public opinion on the death penalty and criminal justice policies in Barbados is, however, the relative paucity of research which relates specifically to that country.
Assumptions about public opinion often underwrite policy-making in the area of criminal justice. However, Maguire and Johnson (2015) are cautious about this straightforward link:
‘Treating public opinion as unidimensional [either punitive or progressive] may mask the complexity in people’s attitudes toward crime policy and may result in complete or misleading assumptions about their actual views.’
The research outlined in this section, particularly that of Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal (2011) reinforces this point and cautions against making misleading inferences from simplistic measures of public opinion. Hood and Seemungal’s research provides the most comprehensive analysis of public opinion on the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago to date. The research found significant nuance, reticence and uncertainty behind death penalty support.