Public opinion on crime, punishment and the death penalty in Barbados

AuthorLizzie Seal,Lynsey Black,Florence Seemungal
DOI10.1177/1462474519881989
Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Public opinion on crime,
punishment and the
death penalty in
Barbados
Lynsey Black
Maynooth University, Ireland
Lizzie Seal
University of Sussex, England
Florence Seemungal
University of the West Indies Open Campus Faculty, Trinidad
Abstract
The bulk of extant research on public opinion on crime and punishment is focused on
Global North nations. This article contributes a new perspective to the literature on
punitivism by examining public opinion on crime, punishment and the death penalty
in Barbados. The article presents insights from exploratory focus group research
conducted in Barbados in 2017. These findings are particularly relevant as Barbadian
lawmakers navigate reform of the nation’s death penalty law. While the focus groups
reveal anxieties that echo those identified in other jurisdictions, related to nostalgia for
the past and concern regarding social order for instance, they also demonstrate the
specific relevance of time and place. Using approaches from Caribbean Criminology and
drawing on post-colonial perspectives, the article examines the context of views
on punishment in Barbados, including perceptions of ‘neo-colonial’ interference and
concerns about what can be lost in the process of ‘progress’.
Keywords
Caribbean, death penalty, post-colonial, public opinion, punitivism, southern
criminology
Corresponding author:
Lynsey Black, Department of Law, Maynooth University, Kildare, Ireland.
Email: lynsey.black@mu.ie
Punishment & Society
2020, Vol. 22(3) 302–320
!The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/1462474519881989
journals.sagepub.com/home/pun
Introduction
This article draws on exploratory focus group research undertaken in Barbados in
2017 investigating attitudes to crime and punishment in a jurisdiction undergoing
death penalty reform.
1
The findings suggest that public opinion on the death pen-
alty is complex and does not straightforwardly justify retention of the sanction.
Findings identify familiar ‘law and order’ concerns, but also demonstrate the
importance of the post-colonial frame in interpreting public attitudes to crime
and punishment.
Barbados offers an alternative case study on punitiveness, often conceived as a
‘global story’ (Hutton, 2005: 252) despite research focusing on Western jurisdic-
tions (Roberts et al., 2003). Barbados is a small island nation (431 km
2
) in the
Eastern Caribbean, one of a group known as the Lesser Antilles.
2
In 2018, the
country’s population was approximately 286,000 (UN Data, 2019a). Its colonial
past and history of slavery distinguish it from Western developed countries. In the
1930s, Barbados ‘was the most economically impoverished, racially divided, social-
ly disadvantaged and politically conservative of the British West Indian colonies’
(Chamberlain, 2010: 14). However, drawing on the 2017 Human Development
Index,
3
the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2018) placed
Barbados in the category of ‘very high’ human development. The UNDP notes
significant gains made in life expectancy, schooling and gross national income per
capita. Barbados represents a study of contrasts, coming from a recent history of
disadvantage, to significant progress in living standards.
This article contributes to a growing Caribbean Criminology. Citing Pryce
(1976), Cain (1996) outlined some first principles of Caribbean Criminology,
including considering the lived Caribbean experience and challenging the predom-
inance of universalising Western theory. This need to complicate the hegemonic
embeddedness of theory emanating from the Global North is noted by proponents
of southern theory (Connell, 2007) and southern criminology (Carrington et al.,
2016). Cain (2000) problematised criminology’s tendency to romanticize the
‘Other’ (Orientalism) and presumption that perspectives from the Global
North are universally applicable to the Global South (Occidentalism), arguing
that differences should be acknowledged, not fetishised. In the Caribbean context,
it is necessary to consider criminal justice extending beyond national borders.
Caribbean Criminology must consider monumental shifts of population resulting
from slavery and indentured servitude (Agozino et al., 2009). Contemporaneously,
drug trafficking and the war on drugs, both internationally felt phenomena, are
significant influences on Caribbean crime and security (Bowling, 2010). Even
within Caribbean Criminology, Barbados, a small nation with lower than regional
average crime rates, has remained peripheral and under-studied.
The meanings of the death penalty cannot be separated from cultural or his-
torical context. Girling et al. (2000) emphasised the need to consider time and place
in perceptions of crime and punishment. As Barbados grapples with questions of
how it should punish, this article provides a preliminary examination of the extent
Black et al. 303

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