In November I wrote in this Blog about prisoners getting the vote (or not) and was surprised by the amount of communication I received as a result of my view; some comments were quite vitriolic. It appears, as I suspected, that many people in our society want prisoner locked up and away from society and today I see that many in the government’s ranks are following the mass view. What a surprise! Or perhaps they are using this issue to beat their anti-European drum.
Surely the right to vote is a basic Human Right with implication for the European court set up to address just such issues.
Today, MPs are being urged to support a motion, jointly tabled by David Davis, Conservative backbencher, and former Labour home secretary Jack Straw. They suggest that whether inmates get to vote should be a matter left to “democratically-elected lawmakers” rather than unelected European judges. The outcome if that were to go ahead seems obvious, the status quo would remain.
Mr Davis has told MPs that while prisoners had rights – such as the right to be fed and protected from harm – he said they should not enjoy the same rights as “free British citizens”. I wonder if a politician with views like this has ever contemplated what it would be like growing up without privilege or status. People don’t have aspirations to become a criminal and be locked up. Bobby Cummines, who spent 13 years in prison for offences including armed robbery before going straight, and is now the chief executive of Reformed Offenders Group stated “At the end of the day, people are inside because they want the middle-class dream”. It seems that Davis, Straw and others in their position have no idea about the damage their statements can cause.
Surely it is time to see a modernising approach to the way we treat people in prison. Yes, they have broken the law and have been convicted of a crime, but I am certain that in the middle of their criminal act they were not thinking about universal suffrage.
What can be stated with some certainty is that the antiquated prison system in the UK does not work. We have record numbers locked up and, if the past is anything to learn from, likely to get more as the austerity measures begin to bite. If we continue to cause people in prison to feel isolated from and cut off by society, it seems obvious that incarceration will continue not to work. We need a successful prison service, not just as a deterrent, but also for people to learn how to be valuable citizens.
Inmates need a sense of societal value and self-worth. Perhaps ensuring a change in their voting rights will be a small step towards effecting successful post-sentence integration. That and lots of education too.
Let’s stand up for rights – people die across the globe fighting for the right to vote, but we seem to take for granted that we have it and are prepared to use it as a stick to beat people who break the law. In my books, that’s a mistake!