Tuesday June 11th: Salt and Light
June 11, 2024
Wednesday June 12th: Building on the past
June 12, 2024

Please Minister, let’s address the root causes of crime 

By Leela Ramdeen

On Wednesday, June 5, the Trinidad Guardian reported statements made by Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds in relation to the death penalty. Inter alia, he said: “I support the law, and as it now stands, the law of the land includes the application of the death penalty, and until that changes, I am a supporter.”

Today 144 countries, about two thirds of the countries in the world, have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. While the Catholic Church condemns the rise of violent crime in our region and expresses solidarity with victims, Catholics reject the notion that capital punishment will act as a deterrent or foster respect for life in our communities.

We believe that society has a right to protect itself from persons who commit heinous crimes and offenders must be held accountable. However, we believe that non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect society from offenders. Here in T&T are we only addressing the symptoms of crime rather than the root causes?

In 2015,  in a letter to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty. Pope Francis called capital punishment “cruel, inhumane and degrading”. He said it “does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge… Furthermore, in a modern state of law, the death penalty represents a failure because it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice.”

On August 1, 2018, Pope Francis  approved a new revision of paragraph number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which now states, inter alia: “…the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Fear of crime is today a serious social problem. And with little or no tangible signs of effective crime prevention strategies, it is quite likely that some individuals will call for the resumption of hanging in T&T, which, as Minister Hinds reminded us, is still on our law books.

However, should we rely on capital punishment to provide solutions to the many complex problems that we face in contemporary society? The view of the Catholic Church is that capital punishment only serves to inflame the culture of violence that is already too prevalent in society.

Violence begets violence. As the US Catholic Bishops have stated in their document: Confronting a Culture of Violence:

Increasingly, our society looks to violent measures to deal with some of our most difficult social problems…including increased reliance on the death penalty to deal with crime…Violence is not the solution; it is the most clear sign of our failures…We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing… We cannot ignore the underlying cultural values that help to create the environment where violence grows: a denial of right and wrong, education that ignores fundamental values, an abandonment of personal responsibility, an excessive and selfish focus on our individual desires, a diminishing sense of obligation to our children and neighbours, a misplaced priority on acquisitions, and media glorification of violence and sexual irresponsibility. In short, we often fail to value life and cherish human beings above possessions, power and pleasure…A consistent ethic of life remains the surest foundation of our life together.

We are all aware of the most pressing social justice issues facing our country: crime and violence including gangs, guns, human trafficking, domestic violence; poverty and social exclusion; corruption; deficiencies in the criminal justice system, in the administration of justice, in health care, in the education system, in how we treat migrants, in our transportation system; inequity in access to basic amenities; unemployment/underemployment; exploitation in the labour market.

The challenge for us is to address these and other issues, to foster an ethic of respect for life and to build a society that respects, affirms, enhances, and promotes the dignity, worth and potential of every human person.

The late South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu rightly said: “There is no justice in killing in the name of justice and no godliness in exacting vengeance…It is our duty …to break the dreadful cycle of violence and the doctrine of revenge…Universal abolition of the death penalty is not a pipe dream. It is a necessity.”

Revenge will not help us to build peace or just societies. Let’s use our human ingenuity to devise strategies that are more durable; more likely to effect the changes we wish to see.


Leela Ramdeen is a consultant with the Catholic Commission for Social Justice and the Archdiocese’s Ministry for Migrants and Refugees