Nearly half the Barbadians polled in a recent survey favour the death penalty for people convicted of murder while a third agreed with capital punishment only under certain circumstances.
This was one of the major findings coming out of the Public Opinion Survey on Crime in Barbados, conducted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit (CJRPU), among 1 232 residents, between October 2020 and February 2021.
“Overall, 43 per cent of persons were in favour of the death penalty whereas 32 per cent stated that it depended on the circumstances. There has been a significant decrease from 63 per cent [respondents in the 2008 study] to 43 per cent of those who are in favour of the death penalty,” reported Criminologist and Senior Research Officer at the CJRPU Kim Ramsay.
“However, there has been a noticeable increase in those who want to consider extenuating circumstances before favouring or opposing the death penalty. Eighteen per cent of those interviewed stated that they were not in favour of the death penalty. Interestingly, both men and women were equally supportive of the death penalty.”
At the same time, close to half of those surveyed were in favour of rehabilitating criminals instead of simply punishing them, and one in four Barbadians said they believed that no progress was being made in fighting certain crimes on the island.
Presenting the findings during an online seminar on Wednesday, Ramsay described the support for the death penalty as “large”, though indicating that this was significantly less than the support in a similar survey conducted in 2008.
While individuals gave varying reasons for favouring capital punishment, 25 per cent cited the adage “an eye for an eye” and that it fits the crime. A similar percentage of respondents said they believed it would serve as a deterrent to crime.
Eight per cent of the respondents said they saw capital punishment as a fair punishment, three per cent said they saw it as justice being served, while one per cent said they believed it would help the victim’s family.
“Overall, persons tended to favour the death penalty because they saw it as retributive and also as a deterrent,” said Ramsay.
Those who opposed the death penalty for convicted murderers also cited varying reasons, ranging from it being wrong to take a life (24 per cent), to the possibility a person is wrongly convicted (20 per cent), punishment should be left to God (10 per cent), it would not serve as a deterrent (12 per cent), and that the guilty individual need to pay/suffer long by staying incarcerated (eight per cent).
The last execution in Barbados was by hanging in 1984.
When asked if the criminal justice system should rehabilitate and not just punish criminals, 50 per cent said they completely agreed, 38 per cent said they somewhat agreed, and four per cent said they did not know, while five per cent said they somewhat disagreed and only three per cent strongly disagreed.
In relation to the views on progress in fighting certain crimes, an average of 40 per cent of respondents did not believe progress was being made.
A breakdown of the data showed that 44 per cent of respondents did not see progress in fighting gun violence and 46 per cent cited no progress in fighting youth violence. Forty per cent of those surveyed said there was no progress in fighting gang violence. Juvenile delinquency, the drug trade, murders and human trafficking were others identified by respondents.
An average of five per cent of those surveyed believed progress was being made in fighting those various crimes.
Meanwhile, an average of 29 per cent of respondents said little progress was being made and an average of 26 per cent of them said they did not know if progress was being made in fighting those crimes.
“Generally, the outlook on the progress in the fight against crime was dim,” said Ramsay.
More than half of respondents had a perception that the criminal justice system was fair, with 45 per cent saying it was somewhat fair and eight per cent saying it was very fair.
However, 28 per cent said it was somewhat unfair and 10 per cent said it was very unfair. The remaining 11 per cent of respondents either said they did not know or refused to answer.
Ramsay said the results showed that the perception of unfairness had just about doubled since the last survey in 2008.
When asked if they had ever been a victim of a crime, 67 per cent of the respondents said ‘no’ while 33 per cent said ‘yes’. The majority of them indicated they were a victim five or more years prior to the survey, while the number of those who experienced crime two to five years prior was the second highest.
Six per cent of respondents said they were a victim of a crime within the preceding six months and four per cent said the crime against them had occurred between six months and a year prior.
The types of crime that continue to be the most problematic are burglary, theft and other assaults.