DPRU Research

Our previous research has taken a broad-brush approach to surveying each aspect of the death penalty in all retentionist jurisdictions, producing an authoritative international survey of the death penalty. Current research at DPRU is organised into 3 thematic clusters: Opinions on the death penalty; Administration of the death penalty; and Disadvantage and discrimination.

Opinions on the death penalty: Given that many retentionist jurisdictions justify their continued use of the death penalty by reference to the importance of democratic will for legitimate governance, we seek to explore what the public thinks about capital punishment. Many general opinion polls, or surveys done on behalf of governments, are superficial, failing to measure the knowledge that opinions are based on, the strength of those opinions or the types of offences or offenders the public believes should be subject to capital punishment. Roger Hood's research in Malaysia produced a more nuanced and detailed understanding of public opinion and we are taking a similar approach to opinion research elsewhere.

Given the role of ‘opinion leaders’ in shaping discourse on the death penalty and in bringing about reforms, we have also begun a series of studies to understand the views of opinion leaders, or ‘elites'. We worked with partner organisations in India and Bangladesh on judges’ opinions on the death penalty, recently completed similar research in Zimbabwe and the Eastern Caribbean, and are currently conducting a study of opinion leaders in Indonesia. While each country tells its own story, where applicable, we conduct comparative research across jurisdictions on both public and elite opinions. 

Administration of the death penalty: Past work has looked at who ends up on death row and for what offences. Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal conducted research for the DPP on the kinds of murders recorded in Trinidad and Tobago and the extent to which they resulted in a conviction for murder and a mandatory death penalty, published in a report, A Rare and Arbitrary Fate. We also consider how justice errs and produces wrongful convictions. Future work will examine critically how the death penalty is applied in practice and where due process protections may be breached, but also consider the politics of the death penalty and how its application is conditioned by economic, social and geopolitical factors beyond the courtroom.

Disadvantage and discrimination:

In October 2020, Jocelyn Hutton and Carolyn Hoyle began work with a Network of Human Rights NGOs on Mapping Death Row; mapping Foreign Nationals at Risk of Capital Punishment in Asia and the Middle East, funded by the ESRC.

In collaboration with HURIDOCS (an NGO that helps human rights organisations gather, organise and present data for social good) they have developed an interactive database on foreign nationals at risk of the death penalty that records socio-demographic, jurisdictional and offence-related data as well as Country Reports, Thematic Reports, case studies and other resources on each retentionist country in these regions.

The database is made freely available by subscription to lawyers, activists, academics and relevant civil society organisations to enable them to better assist foreign nationals on death row through activism, advocacy or litigation. A free subscription can be requested here.

The Network involved in this work includes The Death Penalty ProjectEleos JusticeHarm Reduction InternationalJustice Project PakistanProject 39a, and ADPAN. The team is currently looking for further funding to ensure that this important work can be developed across the African continent and in the Caribbean. They also hope to expand the research to map other populations at risk of the death penalty in the future.

Drug Offences

A new three-year project, funded by the ESRC, on people on death row for drug offences started in 2022. The DPRU will also be developing an interactive database to map people on death row for drug offences across Asia and the Middle East in due course.

In addition to the mapping projects, over the coming years, we aim to conduct socio-demographic studies of prisoners sentenced to death in various Southeast Asian countries, starting with Indonesia, in order to ascertain how intersecting variables such as gender, citizenship, ethnicity, religion and other socio-economic background factors impact on people’s pathways into crime, experiences of justice and risks of being sentenced to death.

In particular, our research will focus on foreign nationals at risk of capital punishment across South and Southeast Asia providing theoretical and empirical accounts of citizenship alongside other sites of disadvantage and discrimination, with one project looking specifically at women.

Gender research: Dr Lucy Harry’s research focuses on the experiences of women who have been sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Malaysia. Specifically, her project engages with criminological theorising on women’s pathways to crime, to examine the life histories and structural factors that may have precipitated women’s engagement in drug trafficking. As part of this project, she has conducted empirical research in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 2021, Dr Harry drawing on this research in Malaysia in the journal Laws, which is available here.

Deterrence Research: In October 2020, new Oxford Criminology DPhil student, Lucrezia Rizzelli will start her project on deterrence, drugs and the death penalty in Indonesia as part of an ESRC collaborative studentship. Co-supervised by Carolyn Hoyle and Parvais Jabbar of The DPP, she will work closely with Dr Claudia Stoicescu, a Research Associate of the Centre for Criminology. Her work will contribute to a larger programme of deterrence scholarship being led by The DPP, which could be replicated across other Southeast Asian jurisdictions. Later this year, Carolyn Hoyle and Parvais Jabbar will conduct a pilot study of prisoners in Jakarta to prepare for Lucrezia’s research, with assistance from Claudia Stoicescu and Ricky Gunawan (former Director of LBH Masyarakat).

On this page