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Should prisoners be allowed to vote? - Ed's journal
sobrique
sobrique
Should prisoners be allowed to vote?
In the news today, we have a debate going on, about prisoners being allowed to vote. The European court of human rights says that not letting them vote is a violation of human rights, and the the UK government has been told to 'fix it'.

It seems to be hotly debated, but I'm trying to figure out what the big objection is - surely a prisoner has as much right to express their view about the government as anyone else? Perhaps more so, as they're more intimately familiar with the justice system.
As long as 'society as a whole' is happy with their incarceration and conditions, then... their vote will be outweighed, and that's simply democracy at work.
I don't see any real reason why someone who's convicted of a crime has their opinion invalidated, any more than ... well, frankly any other minority opinion - be that voting BNP or voting Green party.
As long as that opinion remains a minority, then nothing needs doing as a whole.
If that opinion _stops_ being a minority, then even if it was a crime, then the Government needs to sit up and have a look.

Am I missing something? I mean, even if a criminal does vote to make ... whatever crime they committed (be it expenses fraud, or rape) legal, as long as the rest of society disagrees, then no change there.
23 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
jorune From: jorune Date: February 10th, 2011 09:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm ok with Prisoners voting.
chess From: chess Date: February 10th, 2011 09:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Think of it from a more straightforwards, black-and-white worldview. Prisoners are Bad People (if they weren't they wouldn't have become prisoners).

Bad People should be punished, and not allowed to impinge at all on the world of Good People - that's why we lock them up.

If they vote, they are getting to express their Wrong Opinions (obviously they're wrong, as everything Bad People do is Wrong) in a way that might affect Good People.

Therefore letting them vote is bad.

(Obviously I don't agree with this even slightly, and think that prisoners should indeed be able to vote!)
necessitysslave From: necessitysslave Date: February 10th, 2011 10:38 am (UTC) (Link)
The voting block of the UK prison population is small but it does raise the question of where their vote gets registered against. In a smallish constituency with a largish prison (I don't know if any of these exist) then it might actually have a significant effect.

But it's not like America where the prison population approaches 1%
(Deleted comment)
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: February 10th, 2011 01:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes. Isle of Wight has loads of prisons.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 11:21 am (UTC) (Link)
By committing a crime your choosing to 'opt out' of society for whatever reason.

Removing the vote whilst you're in prison underlines the point. Part of the rehabilitation process should involve how society works, why voting matters, and why it's been taken away from the prisoner until their sentence has been carried out.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: February 10th, 2011 11:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Whilst I follow that line of reasoning, I'm not so sure I agree with it. I mean, what makes a crime? We've a code of laws, established - in the main - to track majority opinion, on the things we consider unacceptable.
We imprison people who violate that.

That's fair enough as far as it goes, but I'd say that's already - essentially - a process of democracy.
The 'majority' agrees that the minority are criminals by their behaviour, and so they go to jail.
I'm less happy though, that they then get excluded from having a 'say' in the process - after all, we've had laws against things like homosexuality in the past, and anti-terrorism legislation that ... lets just say is pretty flexible in application.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 11:50 am (UTC) (Link)
If your society is banging up innocent people, then it has a problem that needs to be addressed by the members of that society.

(I'm sure both of us have engaged in that process in the past, from protesting to talking to various representatives.)

If a country is putting away so many people as to affect the vote, then that society has probably stopped counting votes anyway, and we're all in deep shit.

That however, has nothing to do the main point.

Because the idea is to be sure your punishing the right people, and punishing in such away that when the punishment is over, they can contribute to society, rather than being outside it. Removing and restoring the vote is one way of doing it.

mrph From: mrph Date: February 10th, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Surely part of the process is to ensure that when their sentence is up, they start to integrate into society again, to help prevent reoffending?

Removing their vote isn't much of a punishment compared to everything else. Conversely, allowing them to vote may help to keep them engaged with the outside world?

There's a much-quoted line about prisons in Northern Ireland - the Loyalists spent all their time in the gym; the Republicans spent all their time in the library.

From my point of view, one of these is preferable to the other. It's a generalisation, of course - but allowing the vote sounds like a nudge towards the library; prohibiting it sounds like a step towards the gym.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alternatively, we miss things more once they're gone. Being told why you've lost your vote, why finishing your sentence gets it back, is also a nudge toward learning about how the country is ran, and thus a nudge toward the library.
queex From: queex Date: February 10th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
For, say, a six-month sentence, which they'll serve out during only the first 10% of the incoming administration? That strikes me as grossly unrepresentative. It could be argued that for a longer sentence, which wouldn't be completed, it might be justified; but then where are you if someone is released early, or found not guilty after new evidence comes to light?

Besides, saying that committing a crime should lose you rights that are otherwise universally granted skirted uncomfortably close to saying that you lose all protection of the law during the commission of a crime- the errant nonsense that says that shooting a burglar in the back while he's running away is justified, for example.

Prison is an unfortunate necessity, and should be geared to avoiding repeat offences, but denying the vote to prisoners is just another example of the childish need to dehumanise and retaliate against 'bad' people that seem to permeate discussion about crime and punishment.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
but denying the vote to prisoners is just another example of the childish need to dehumanise

No it isn't. Disenfranchisement is not a petty matter, and should be seen as childish.

As I said to Marcus:

By committing a crime that would deserve a custodial sentence should they get caught, they've also forfeited their right to vote.

This underlines the idea that criminal behaviour is abnormal and outside the rules.

That said, having your right to vote restored as part of the path to parole and early release, I think is a good idea. Making it a crucial stage of rehabilitation is something I can get behind.
queex From: queex Date: February 10th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
By committing a crime that would deserve a custodial sentence should they get caught, they've also forfeited their right to vote.

Why?

It does not follow. It's a complete non-sequitur.

They don't forfeit their right to protection under the law. They don't forfeit their right to live. They do forfeit certain liberties, but only those necessary for the protection of others in a very direct fashion. Denying them a vote does not protect the rest of the population, neither does it inhibit their ability to offend in future. It serves no purpose, other than assuaging people's feelings that prisoners are fundamentally 'worse than us', which is an attitude that benefits no-one.

(Another point is that the European law is probably intended to prevent imprisonment from being used as a tool of an oppressive regime- not something ever likely to be a problem in the UK, but before Western democracies can wax lyrical about other countries doing so, we need to make sure we're playing by the same rules already.)
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why?
Well, I was talking in the present tense: Currently, incarceration equals Felony disenfranchisement.

I understand that it comes from a time when exile was still an option. This gives us the perspective of why the law wasn't adjusted to give rights to criminals; Exile removes any right to engage in the society you've wronged, after all.

Denying them a vote does not protect the rest of the population, neither does it inhibit their ability to offend in future.
I disagree. An attempt to make those who chose to not be part of society engage with its structure could easily include being given the right to vote back. It could easily be an essential part of the rehabilitation process.

Of course, overhauling the justice system and making it so it addresses the causes of crime (and examine why some crimes are wilfuly ignored) would be a more useful thing to do, but that's a different conversation entirely.

queex From: queex Date: February 10th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I was talking in the present tense: Currently, incarceration equals Felony disenfranchisement.

This is known as the is-ought fallacy. I'm saying the current situation is morally wrong and should be changed. Arguing that it should not be changed because it is right, and it is right because that's the way it is done is circular.

I disagree. An attempt to make those who chose to not be part of society engage with its structure could easily include being given the right to vote back. It could easily be an essential part of the rehabilitation process.

You seem obsessed with the idea that everyone who is sent down has made some conscious and collected decision to 'opt-out of society', but that's an absurd attitude. It's a bizarre mischaracterisation of why crime is committed. Besides, even if some hypothetical criminal had made such a conscious decision, I still don't accept that their refusal to operate in society is best met by removing their right to vote.

As I said, it's a non-sequitur.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
You fail to get my point. There is further discussion on my journal, if you care to look at some different perspectives.
queex From: queex Date: February 10th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I get what you're driving at- the idea that citizenship is in some ways a privilege rather than a right, and certain aspects can be revoked- I just think that it's not just that voting be one of the privileges that can be taken away. Unlike the loss of liberty, where there is a direct relationship, the connection to voting is arbitrary.

There is not a hard line of 'badness' between custodial sentences and other sentences- in particular judges take into account many personal factors when sentencing. It's entirely possible for two people to commit fundamentally the same crime, but only one be sent to prison. A case can be made that the circumstances warrant a greater restriction of liberty on one than the other, but I don't accept that decision regarding personal liberty should spill over into voting rights.

It may be how the law currently runs, but it's certainly not written into the constitution (being as we don't have one) and thus subject to change like any other law. I would like the law changed, in exactly the way the European ruling wants.

In short, I get your point, I just think it's rubbish.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 10th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
And I think you don't have a full perspective.

Take a look at putrescines comments on the subject on my LJ, and this

http://ybtj.cjsonline.gov.uk/
queex From: queex Date: February 10th, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, putrescine's argument seem to have two prongs- the first the is-ought 'that's how it is/has been for a long time' which I reject as a good reason outright. The second is that there is a fundamental link between voting and appropriate citizenship- again I see no good reason for the link.

I get your point, I see your perspective- I just think it's bunk.

there remains a quite legitimate desire by the wider population for an element of punishment

is worrying- I utterly reject the idea that punishment, purely for punishment's sake, has any place whatsoever in criminal justice. The three purposes of prison are:

1 - Deterrent
2 - Rehabilitation
3 - Prevention (i.e. prevent criminal acts while the sentence is served)

Introducing punishment into that is always and everywhere an evil act.
ed_fortune From: ed_fortune Date: February 11th, 2011 09:00 am (UTC) (Link)
As I have said repeatedly, the return of ones rights should be part of rehabilitation.

You don't permanently lose your rights, they're suspended.

You seem to think the "No" side is vindictive. I think that's unfair, and fosters the harmful 'Us versus Them' attitude which is horribly damaging.

Of course, they are better methods, and a massive change to what is regarded as criminal and how we deal with the reasons behind crime is long overdue. I'd rather see energy and effort put into that than this.

The perspective we need of course, is an ex-cons, but the ones I know aren't on LJ, nor would they really want to talk about it.

You're probably best of directing any replies on the relevant threads on my journal if you want to continue: I won't be in a position to reply for a few days.
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: February 10th, 2011 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I really couldn't care less whether a subset of prisoners get the vote or not. I do care whether our government operates according to the rule of law or not.

The court has ruled; it is time for the government to implement according to that ruling.
necessitysslave From: necessitysslave Date: February 10th, 2011 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
is there a right to appeal?
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 8th, 2011 10:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Listen to all those prisoners protesting for their right to vote. Look at them. First thing they do when they're banged up, isn't it? Bemoan the fact that they're now denied the right to vote.

Honestly, how many of them know or care? The bigger issue in my eyes is low electoral turnout. People not bothering to vote. If it's a human right then it's also a human responsibility. Honest hard-working men (and then women) shed blood and sweat for the right to vote.

Perhaps instead one should be put into prison for not voting in an election i.e. institute a legal compulsion to vote (this exists for the census, after all).

Sure, there has to be a right to abstain, but at least turn up and actively abstain (spoil your ballot) to make your abstention heard and counted.

I agree that "votes for prisoners" is a topic worthy of debate, but it is set within the wider debate of "public engagement with politics". Should prisoners be allowed to vote? Perhaps. But I'd no doubt shake my head in despair if I lived in a world where prisoners voted and ordinary citizens did not (in terms of turnout proportional to population).

Chris from Wales
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