On prisoners being allowed the vote – my rough thoughts.

2 Nov

Hello gang. Now, I’ve become remarkably self-conscious about this blog, and the fact that, quite often, I can go on-and-on-and-on without really getting to the matter at hand. This stops here. In a simple, straight-to-the-point statement, this blogpost is why I’m glad prisoners will soon be able to vote.

According to the front page of today’s Telegraph, the Coalition government are preparing themselves to enable legislation to allow prisoners to vote, in line with EU law.

Good.

I appreciate that the Coalition will make apologies and that Europe will inevitably get the blame in the press, like it usually does. Much like a schoolchild’s excuse for not doing their homework, you can just see the Prime Minister saying “Sorry Miss, the EEC ate it”.

Whoever is to blame, however, doesn’t stop it being a good idea. Ever since the right to vote was established, the franchise to vote has been limited. If one looks at the parliaments of the world, at various times we’ve seen people excluded the vote for various reasons. The young (well, under 35), on account that they were seen to be too immature. Women, on account that they were seen to be irrational. The poor, on account that they didn’t count. Black people, in certain regimes, on account that they were black. These are just examples, and the list isn’t exhaustive.


Prisoners, though? Well, they bring it on themselves, don’t they? And how dare I insult your collective intelligence, dear readers, by comparing criminals and thieves with the illegitimately dispossessed groups I mentioned in the last paragraph? Let me explain.

First of all, prisoners are just like you or me, perhaps a lot closer to you or me than we’d like to admit. There’s good and there’s bad in all of us, and what separates us from them is that we exhibit sufficient self-control not to do bad things that will end us up in prison. However, we, as a society, have a way of punishing people who do bad things, and one such way is locking them up in a big building with like minded hoodlums for a relatively arbitrary period of time. Just to stamp the message home a bit, we tell them that because of their wrong-doing, they are no longer allowed to vote.

For me, the “locking-up” aspect is really the key aspect of the punishment. By keeping an inmate inside the confines of a prison means that, effectively, when all’s said and done, their own life is out of their hands. Want to go to the shop and buy some fags? Tough. Want to watch the latest movie in three brain-blowing dimensions? Tough. You’re in a cell, with a book and a radio if you’re lucky. (For what it’s worth, I take reports that cells have Sky TV and Playstations with a bottle of salt). And you’re going to be doing this day, after day, after day, after day, after day. Without respite. Hungry? Want a microwaved burger? Tough. You’re in jail. Or lucky you, depending on your view of Rustler’s. You get one hour a day of freedom. Use it wisely, but you still can’t go over the road to that awesome smelling kebab shop.

Not allowing prisoners to vote, however, don’t seem all that just. If you consider that prison is a place for bad people to go and atone for their crimes, not allowing them the vote just seems like a bit of spite added on for good measure; society putting the boot in just to make itself feel a little better.

It also seems to be completely ridiculous that it’s prisoners, as opposed to criminals, who lose the vote. Someone in jail for fraud, for instance, can’t vote, but someone who has 240 hours of community service for nicking the lead off the church roof can. Seems a little perverse, that. No, scratch that, it seems massively insane – why should one crime against society be punishable with the withdrawal of the franchise, and another one not? While I’m at it, bearing in mind that the Justice Secretary says that shorter and non-custodial sentences are the way forward, is it not inconsistent that the same crime 20 years ago would have seen you struck off the voting register now allows you the freedom to visit the kebab shop, choose from a selection of cigarettes, and vote in an election?

Furthermore, think of reform. Prisons serve as a place that seek to reform characters who, shall I say, don’t think of themselves as citizens in a society, but as individuals doing their own thing, to the detriment of society. Would we not be in a better place if, instead of banning them from voting, we actively encouraged prisoners to vote and engage with civic society in prison (well, prepare them for civic duty, rights and responsibilities upon release)? And let’s not just look at reforming prisoners – prisons from time to time need reforming as well. Not so long ago, the practise of “slopping out” was banned in Scottish prisons. For the uninitiated, slopping out means shitting and pissing in a bucket, and chucking it out once a day. This medieval practise was rightly stopped – prison is there to reform, not to torture. However, it wasn’t stopped at the ballot box – it was stopped when an ex-con went to his solicitors, and won a civil action, and subsequently thousands of pounds. If prisoners had their say, at an election, it may not stop future legal action against the Prison Service, but it’ll be a step in the right direction.

Last point, human rights. Again, like the EU, the tabloids will bang on about the human rights of criminals. Voting, for me, is not a human right. In fact, truth be told, I’m a little suspicious of the notion of human rights – I genuinely don’t know how I got them, and why the monkey didn’t.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t let prisoners vote – whilst it is a liberty afforded to them, I do think that in a civilised society, it’s a right that can, and should, be afforded to them, because while I’m in the kebab shop, and their in their cell over the road, wishing that they could be eating some of my lovely lovely lamb-grease, they may not be angels, but they may have something to offer society from within their barred confine.

If they wish to express that at the ballot box, then all power to them.

Oh, and just a Columbo-style “Just one more thing…”; remember how I said that we’ve all got good and bad inside us? A bit of moral introspection here. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of, and we’re all capable of doing even worse. Think about the worst thing you could do. Would that automatically disbar you from voting? And should it?

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