Prisoners’ Votes – a question of rights!

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!

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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, inequality, Prejudice, prison, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Prisoners’ Votes – a question of rights!

  1. jason de jonge says:

    you are wrong – this is nothing about people growing up without rights. This is about people who have broken the law.
    I am very far from a sort sort of right wing law and order freak. I would consider myself a libertarian but fiscally to the right. voting is a democratic right that many have fought and died for in this country. The right to vote is soaked in the blood of people who died striving for the right to their voice meaning something.
    By breaking the law, you reject the rules of society and should pay a price. The loss of your vote should is society’s way of showing that the contact has been broken by the criminal and they need to redeem themselves.
    The basic problem today is that so many people in this country do not understand how important a right the vote is and how important democracy is. The removal of the right to vote for someone who has turned their back on the democratic society that gave them the freedom to choose to commit crime is a very different situation to many in the world who have never had the option. And to compare the two shows a pathetic lack of understanding about the wider world.

    • equalityedge says:

      I knew when I put up this post that it would be contentious – it has proven to be so.

      Prisoner rehabilitation is dependent on keeping inmates in touch with the outside world, not detached from it. Perhaps keeping an eye on political events and having the right to vote is part of that.

      I acknowledge it is more complex than this and the real issues of social deprivation, lack of opportunity, poor education and other influences are not addressed by giving inmates the vote.

      • I feel that prisoners should have the right to vote there are and have been prisoners wrongly convicted and some petty crime
        youngsters cought up through frustration they need help to go
        forward to chang there lives. I went to an exhibition run for and with young offenders They were showing artwork and crafts they had done it was truly wonderful work there was also poems which were touching and talking to these people they had turned their life around. Many prople find it hard to read and write to express them selves. they are offered drugs and caught up with wrog people. It is no good locking them up with no hope no help for outside world and no home or work to go to. I spent quite a long time talking with these people so they should have a vote and talk to them why did they get where
        they are how can we help them.

  2. Marc Brenman says:

    There appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding here. When people have broken the law, been tried and convicted, and sentenced to become a prisoner, they are by definition, deprived of some of their rights and freedoms. Their freedom of movement is restrained, their time management is not their own, and, in many places, they lose their right to vote. This is understandable. As people who have put themselves outside of the social contract, and shown an unwillingness to get along with society in a legal way, they have called into question the potential contribution of their vote. A more interesting debate is whether their voting rights should be restored after they have completed their sentence. In some places in the US, it is very difficult to have one’s voting rights restored. Sometimes this cannot happen until the person makes full restitution for the damage they have caused. The difficulty in vote restoration has created disenfranchisement for many African-American men, who are incarcerated at a high and disproportionate rate, often for crimes overlooked in the Anglo community, such as minor marijuana possession. So, in the US at least, the more potentially fruitful discussion is over vote restoration after sentence completion, rather than “votes for prisoners.”

  3. Josh Pert says:

    I’m intrigued as to how far the particular vote in the commons focuses on the rights of prisoners or whether it is actually a test of the power of European vs national courts. with a cynical hat on I’d say this was an ideal issue to alight on if I wanted to demonstrate that strasbourg had too much power.
    That aside though I boil the debate down to question of whether prison should protect society from harm by isolating offenders for a defined period OR protect it for the long term by rehabilitating. I’d argue that only the latter makes any sense or we’re simply investing in a system to perpetuate re-offending. Encouraging prisoners, who in many cases will feel that the democratic institution failed them prior to their committing offences, to engage actively through voting seems intrinsically linked to successful rehabilitation to be accountable for their actions and destiny.

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