Criminologist calls for study on effectiveness of capital, corporal punishments, as Malaysia abolishes mandatory death sentence

A criminologist has applauded the Malaysian government’s decision to abolish the mandatory death sentence but says scientific studies must be carried out to gauge the effectiveness of capital and corporal punishments.

“Malaysia needs a philosophy of crime and punishment model and a study on the effectiveness of the death penalty,” said Associate Professor (Honorary) Datuk Dr P. Sundramoorthy.

“What is our model? Is it a deterrent? To rehabilitate, for restitution or retribution?

“Once you have the philosophy, you can know if the punishment fits the crime,” he added.

The Dewan Rakyat yesterday passed two bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences, including drug trafficking and kidnapping, following a voice vote by MPs.

The two bills – the Abolition of the Mandatory Death Penalty Bill 2023, and the Revision of Sentences of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life (Temporary Jurisdiction of the Federal Court) Bill 2023 – were tabled by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), Ramkarpal Singh.

The passing of the bills grants judges the option to impose jail terms of up to 40 years to replace the mandatory death penalty. However, the death penalty is still maintained for certain cases.

Sundramoorthy added that it was logical for the government to commission a scientific study on the effectiveness of capital and corporal punishment.

“The whole world knows that trafficking in drugs in Malaysia can result in death by hanging, but it is not a deterrent in the war against drugs,” he said.

“A majority of those on death row in Malaysia were involved in the drug trade. But they are not the major players. The kingpins are still free.

“So, is it an effective punishment?”

There are 1,324 prisoners on death row in Malaysia.

Sundramoorthy said the in-depth study must include views from various stakeholders – the perpetrators, the victims and their family members, law enforcement, and experts.

“I have interviewed inmates who were repeat offenders. They were caned but still returned to a life of crime.

“We must find ways to help them change,” said Sundramoorthy.

“Malaysia must accept the fact that capital punishment and caning are considered cruel.”

He also said the government should carry out a study on whether to continue caning prisoners.