Is the vote a right or a responsibility. Either way it is an equality issue. If a person is found guilt of a crime, should they have their right to vote removed? They are being prejudiced against – this is state discrimination.
The government is considering allowing prisoners to vote in elections, five years after a European Court of Human Rights ruling stated that the ban on their suffrage was illegal. Is this a state of political procrastination or is it a gesture to the mainstream, in the knowledge that most voters in the UK have a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” policy towards offenders? Perhaps for a government that has just put the Equality Act onto the statute books, this action is a give away to their true belief in equalities for all.
In 2005 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled the UK’s ban on inmates voting was unlawful. However ministers still continue to resist the European ruling, although they do concede that “The government has been actively considering this issue over the summer. This work is continuing”. How long does it take – yes or no? “Yes” gives a message to people in prison – we are serious about your rehabilitation and trust you to act as citizens on your release. “No” says by committing an impressionable offence you forwent the rights afforded to the rest of society and the democratic world.
How serious can the government be about rehabilitation if the human right to vote is not afforded to prisoners?
Apparently, David Cameron has reluctantly accepted that the 140-year-old ban on sentenced prisoners voting in elections cannot be maintaining. However, it seems he has found a way to manoeuvre around this somewhat – aiming to keep the ban for those who have committed the worst crimes, whilst restoring voting to those with six month or shorter sentences.
It is readily accepted that for some prison is not even the right option. Many are there as a result of being let down by society and other support structures, whilst others would be far better served in drug rehabilitation or psychiatric placements.
I do not believe that by restoring the vote to the 70,000 people in prison will fundamentally affect either the electoral process or any party’s chances of re-election. It may, however, give a positive message to those who, in many cases, are in prison through neglect and mistreatment. It would be a great incentive to inmates to think about the outside and good citizenship via the act of voting – even if it is once in every few years.
Human rights are universal and clearly described as such in most literature. Since when does universality exclude people in prison? This is one of those opportunities to pressurise the government into acting in accordance with its own belief system – democracy!
The right to vote is not afforded to everyone in the world and if we want to maintain the beacon status of a modern democracy that we so proudly expound to the world, it is time to withdraw the ban and turn over 140 of injustice.