Changing Minds

This letter was printed in the February 21, 2016 issue of the Inquirer:

Our lawmakers are currently debating on whether to reimpose the death penalty or not. Pro-reimposition proponents argue that the death penalty deters the commission of crimes.

But if Fyodor Dostoyevsky were alive today he would probably say that our lawmakers are very naive because that is not the way criminals think. This, Dostoyevsky told a prospective publisher of his book “Crime and Punishment” in a letter: Legal punishment for a crime intimidates a criminal infinitely less than lawmakers think, partly because the criminal himself morally demands it.

And so, although part of the criminal might want to escape the penalty, part of him also wants to be caught: It’s all part of the game.

A criminal’s mind is not a normal one. Imposing the death penalty might just invite many criminal minds to commit more crimes punishable with the death penalty.

What can deter a criminal mind? What can change it? There is a celebrated case of a criminal undergoing a conversion, a change of heart: the repentant thief on Calvary. What made him change his mind? Seeing a good man punished with the death penalty unjustly, and seeing the mercy of this man for the people who was treating him cruelly and wrongfully.

Can our lawmakers think of ways to make justice work better in our country other than prescribing the death penalty for criminals? Should they not rather come up with ways to get rid of corruption, or to reduce poverty, or how to educate our people better, or how to enforce the law judiciously, or how to make the police work professionally? Such measures, not the death penalty, may be more effective in changing the minds of criminals.


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