The death penalty debate

British citizen Tracy Housel was executed on13th March 2002 in Jackson, Georgia, in the US. He received a lethal injection and took 11 minutes to die. Housel, born in the British colony of Bermuda, was convicted of the murder and rape of a woman in Georgia in 1986. He also confessed to the murder of 17 other people. His defenders say that he was mentally ill at the time. The British government had asked the US not to execute one of its citizens.

On 31st January, 2001, Dr Harold Shipman was convicted of murdering 15 of his elderly female patients. The 56-year-old family doctor from Manchester, England, had killed the sick women by injecting them with morphine when he was visiting their homes. He was sentenced by the judge to life imprisonment for each of the 15 lives he had taken. But there is good evidence that he may have killed as many as 100, or perhaps even more, of his patients. When the judge read out his sentence, someone from the public gallery in the court shouted, "He should be hanged." If Shipman had been living in the state of Georgia when he was murdering old ladies then he would have been.

These horrific crimes, and the murder of three bank tellers and a security guard at Kredyt Bank, Warsaw in March 2001, have reopened the debate about the death penalty in Poland and Britain. Many people feel that locking up murderers in prison is no punishment for what they have done. In the US, keeping a prisoner in jail costs the taxpayer $18,000 a year. Britain is the only country in Western Europe where the death penalty is regularly debated in Parliament. Nobody in Britain has been executed since the practice was abolished in 1965. But when asked in opinion polls, a majority of the general public in Britain and Poland say that they are in favour of re-establishing execution as a method of punishment.

In the next few pages we present some of the points of view on this controversial issue. If you would like to add to this debate yourselves then please write to us at, or ul. Dzielna 6/8, 00-162 Warszawa, and we will publish your comments in our next issue.