Anyone following British politics will see we’ve been having a drama llama about giving the vote to prisoners. Currently, while in prison you have no voting rights. A prisoner took this to the European Court of Human rights that has turned round and said “that’s wrong. Fix it.” Parliament has voted against fixing it – again showing that our system of no judicial overthrow of rights violations is a broken and dangerous one.

I think prisoners should have the vote, for several reasons.

Firstly, democracy is a fragile thing (it’s also not a perfect thing. The will of the people is all well and good, but far too often the people are bigoted, foolish and down right self-destructive). There are many ways you can break it – with fear, with ignorance, with prejudice, with a media that is unfit for purpose and failing in its duty and with ridiculous electoral system that makes “will of the people” an almost comic claim. But one of the prime and classic ways to break a democracy is to disenfranchise people.

If you want the will of the people, then you need to allow the people to vote. All of those capable of doing so need to be able to do so.

Now I know many people are saying “I don’t want people like that deciding who runs the country” and I have to say, firstly, that they could hardly do a worse job than we do. Secondly, that their few and widely spread numbers are hardly a massive demographic. And thirdly – that argument has a very poor precedent.
There are a lot of people I’d rather have no say who runs the country. I don’t want ignorant fools who have done no research voting. I don’t want bigots voting. Heh, I’d be quite content if Tory voters didn’t vote.
Not letting people vote because we don’t like them is… nervous-making. Even if dislike of a group is universal, even if dislike of a group is reasonable – it’s still nervous-making and not exactly ideal for a democracy.

In addition I think we have to consider that prisoners are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It seems odd to claim, but it’s very true. The general populace does not care whether prisoners are abused – in fact, stories of prisoner abuse are regarded with malicious glee far too often. We relish in the suffering of the incarcerated. Every aspect of their lives is subject to the whims of the government authorities in a way that the non-incarcerated cannot even imagine. They are utterly controlled and helpless before it.

This isn’t a campaign against imprisonment – but, like any vulnerable group (I’ve said before that I vote because, as a marginalised person, who controls the government is a serious matter if I want my rights upheld) prisoners have an extreme vested interest in having their views heard and listened to by the powers that be. We cannot successfully have a prison system – let alone a just, ethical and moral prison system – run by people who have no reason to listen to the prisoners themselves – or who are driven to listen to the “make them suffer” right wingers but not those who will live in those conditions.

Some people will argue that losing the vote is part of the punishment of committing a crime. As I have previously said when talking about the death penalty, I do not see the point in punishment for the sake of punishment.

If you are going to deny someone of their rights then I want a reason why. Because they’re RIGHTS and should be treated with respect. “They deserve it” isn’t a reason. It’s meaningless, a buzz word and part of the desire for revenge Vengeance isn’t a reason – not an ethical one. “We want them to suffer because we hate them” is not moral position, no matter how justified that hate may be. Nor can hate be a position on which we base our laws or legal system – making people suffer because we want them to hurt cannot be a defensible legal position.

Now, the commonplace reasons for us imprisoning people is to:
  1. Deter both the criminal specifically and criminality in general
I think we can all agree that “ooh I lost my vote” isn’t going to stop anyone committing crimes
  1. Protect society from dangerous criminals
Hence why we incarcerate people away from the population at large. Again, a vote is not the most lethal weapon ever devised.
  1. Rehabilitation
Hah, I don’t know why I include this since it’s usually a gesture at best. But, again, denying someone the vote doesn’t seem to be a good way to get people on the straight and narrow – quite the opposite in fact since it means people likely to vote for various half-way schemes etc, cannot.
  1. Ensuring someone doesn’t profit from their crimes/gain advantage through criminality
A somewhat nebulous, philosophical reason. Basically, someone should not have an advantage due to breaking the rules. Punishment exists to ensure they are not advantaged in anyway by their criminal actions. Again, vote? Doesn’t really fit here

I could go on but I think I’ve made a point. The practical reasons for punishments don’t really justify denying the vote as well. I still await a concrete reason why I should be happy about the disenfranchisement of prisoners.

On a practical level we also have to consider the very real fact that the prison and justice system are both very prejudiced. They couldn’t be otherwise since they are products of an already prejudiced society. Marginalised people are far more likely to be convicted of crimes, are far more likely to be targeted by law enforcement and are far more likely to receive longer and more severe sentences. Even crimes themselves, we’re usually far more lenient with regards to traditionally “white collar” crimes than we other crime.
Denying the vote to prisoners inherently helps to disenfranchise the poor, the lower classes, minorities and the marginalised – because the system already disproportionately targets these people for imprisonment.

So, prisoners with the vote? Sparky says yes.