A Discussion on the Death Penalty – Including a book reading from Sunny Jacobs, author of ‘Stolen Times’

15 Jun

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“Death Penalty is a nasty business” 

 “Prison has become a business in America, in USA.”

 – Sunny Jacobs at the discussion on death penalty

The discussion on the death penalty at the Metcalf Auditorium, New South Wales State Library on 14th June 2007 saw a small crowd of about 40. Despite the turnout, the discussion managed to touch on various aspects of the death penalty mostly, its dehumanising impact to society and individuals.

The speakers for the discussion included Cameron Murphy, President of New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties; Rachel Walsh, Vice President of Reprieve Australia; Sunny Jacobs, author of ‘Stolen Times’; and Anthony Mitchell from Amnesty International, Australia.

Cameron, who was the first to speak, touched on the possibility of the reintroduction of the death penalty in Australia with the emergence of right- wing politicians such as Pauline Hanson. While Australia officially abolished capital punishment nationwide under The Crimes (Death Penalty Abolition) Amendment Act 1985 and under Commonwealth law, (abolished in 1973 by Section 4 of The Death Penalty Abolition Act 1973); polls have indicated that more Australians are gradually warming to capital punishment. Cameron also criticized the Australian – Indonesian government’s security pact, the Lombok Treaty, which was not drafted within a human rights framework. This means that the Australian government, at the expense of intelligence sharing, would not be able to save its citizens from the gallows if they were convicted of a crime in Indonesia that could be punishable by execution.

Rachel related the history of Reprieve Australia, which was initially formed as a network of pro bono lawyers and interns working on death row cases in the United States. She revealed some alarming death penalty statistics in US e.g. 3350 people currently on death row with 53 executions per year and that 38 out of 53 states still practise capital punishment.

Anthony started on a positive note that the worldwide trend is towards abolitionist in most countries. However, the barbarity of the execution methods remain desperately archaic and cruel ranging from hanging to lethal injection and stoning. The death penalty is still used for minor or non violent crimes. e.g. Drug possession in Indonesia and Singapore. In Pakistan, a women can be stoned for having sex outside marriage.

Sunny Jacobs who was the first women in the US to be sentenced to death after it was re-introduced, was in solitary confinement for 5 years; and another 12 years in prison, in Florida before being exonerated. She related her personal experience on death row and read a part from her book, which were emotionally touching. She went on to explain how the death penalty does not solve any societal problems except causing more grief to those affected.

The discussion, which started at about 6:15 ended about two hours later with a question and answer segment and a book signing by Sunny.

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