Public opinion on the death penalty in Ghana

Tankebe, Justice and Boakye, Kofi E. and Atupare, Atudiwe P. Public opinion on the death penalty in Ghana. Project Report. Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, Accra.

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Abstract

This publication reports findings from the first empirical study on public opinion on the death penalty in Ghana. The research was inspired by the work of the Constitutional Review Commission, which recommended in its final report to Government the abolition of the death penalty. The Commission advanced four main arguments for its recommendation: the current de facto abolition position does not adequately punish death penalty convicts; the lack of justification for the state arrogating to itself the right to take life; current international trends towards abolition; and belief in utilitarian principles which emphasise reformation as the fundamental aim of the justice system. As can be seen, none of these reasons makes reference to public sentiments about the death penalty. The Commission’s work involved a ‘public’ consultation, but opinion leaders and key stakeholders such as professional bodies and local advocacy groups dominated the process. For various reasons – for example, the structure of the process, lack of awareness of the consultative meetings, and the structure of people’s routine activities – a large section of Ghanaians was unable to participate in the Commission’s work. Yet, a wider public engagement would seem important given the peculiar history of the death penalty in Ghana and concerns about backlash effects in the form of vigilante violence. Moreover, Articles 3(3) and 13(1), which concern the death penalty, are entrenched provisions in the Ghanaian constitution. Therefore, notwithstanding Government’s acceptance of the Commission’s recommendations, a referendum is required to decide whether or not the death penalty should be abolished. Research evidence on the nature of public opinion on the death penalty will contribute to debate preceding the referendum. The research began following a presentation by the authors at the invitation of the European Union Delegation in Ghana and the French Embassy on the 11th World viii Day Against the Death Penalty in 2013. The research was funded by the Smuts Memorial Fund and the Cambridge-Africa Alborada Research Fund, University of Cambridge. The Centre of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Ghana) carried out the study based on a face-to-face survey of 2460 people randomly selected from four communities in Accra. The selected communities reflect the varying socio-economic and ethnic compositions of the capital city and country. The fieldwork was conducted in April and May 2014, and covered a broad range of issues in relation to the death penalty. The results showed that views about the death penalty do not appear to be polarized. The majority of Ghanaian respondents (48.3%) expressed strong opposition to the death penalty. Only 8.6% indicated strong endorsement of this form of punishment. Almost 6 out of every 10 respondents supported abolition of the death penalty in cases of murder. Among those opposed to abolition, 7 in 10 would support a discretionary death penalty in place of the current mandatory death penalty. The most preferred replacement for the death penalty was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Approximately, 71% of people interviewed chose life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as the alternative to the death penalty. This is consistent with the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission. Popular commentary on the death penalty suggests that Ghanaians support retention of the death penalty for reasons of deterrence. The evidence from this study revealed a tripod of reasons: deterrence; retribution; and justice for victims’ families. Among proponents of abolition, sanctity of life and the possibility of executing innocent people were the two prominent reasons. The data show very little evidence of potential backlash in the form of support for vigilante violence or lynching; 26% said they would take the law into their own hands if the death penalty was abolished. The ix findings from a detailed analysis showed that traditional religious beliefs about supernatural punishments were a powerful force shaping attitudes to the death penalty. People who believed in these punishments were more likely to endorse the death penalty and to resist abolition for murder. This is novel finding in the academic literature on the death penalty. However, more research is required to establish more fully the mechanisms that link these beliefs to anti-abolition attitudes. There is evidence of hotspots of death penalty views from this study. Residents of high-class neighbourhoods were likely to oppose the death penalty and to support its abolition for murder. Support for the death penalty was concentrated in low-class migrant areas. An interesting finding emerged that low-class indigenous areas were more opposed to the death penalty than middle-class areas. Finally, a key issue in death penalty research concerns the role of scientific evidence, especially evidence on deterrence effects and wrongful conviction. The findings show that evidence has both transformative and reinforcement effects. While scientific evidence does not lead to a complete rejection of the death penalty, the findings showed that some anti-abolitionists are open to a reasoned debate, and will reconsider their views in the face of scientific evidence. Taken together, the findings from this public opinion survey show a weak public support for the death penalty in Ghana. On the issue of abolishing the death penalty and possible backlash effect, the evidence suggests this is unlikely to be the case. Importantly, the survey reveals the complexity of public opinion on the death penalty and the need for evidence-based approach to understanding the roots of public concerns in order to prevent any possible backlash effects that might lead to pressure to reinstate the death penalty.

Item Type: Research Report or Working Paper (Project Report)
Keywords: Death penalty, Rule of law, Ghana
Faculty: Faculty of Arts, Law & Social Sciences
Depositing User: Dr Kofi E Boakye
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2017 13:22
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2017 13:22
URI: http://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/702009

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