Monday, 19 November 2012

Prisoner Voting - what are the options?

Giving prisoners the right to vote is such a visceral issue I am going to try and set out the position that presently exists, the pressures from Europe, and the genuine argument that speaks of the need to integrate former prisoners back into society.
It is understood that parliament will be asked to review this situation shortly, with a future vote.
The present system effectively denies prisoners the right to vote, save for two minor but key exceptions, which are those persons imprisoned for contempt of court and those on remand.
However, in 2004 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a general disenfranchisement of all serving prisoners was wrong. True to form the Labour government did nothing on this issue, so it passed to us to deal with it. In February 2011 Parliament held a general debate on this issue and rebuffed the European argument, and favoured a motion whereby there should be no votes for prisoners, save those on remand or in prison for a civil contempt of court.
The options for the way ahead are keeping the present situation, or an extension to voting rights for those who are serving low terms for lesser offences eg a sentence of less than 6 months, or the vote for everyone.
There are additional complications as to where the prisoners vote counts - where he lived before prison or where he currently resides ie the location of the prison? Given that Durham prison has over a thousand residents that is a big prison, with a big vote base.
As always we will need to read the evidence and hear the arguments, but I have made the point in my book "Doing Time" that we do need to do everything possible to integrate people back into society as they exit prison - for example the need and ability to have a bank account is one aspect that has long been denied them. Bank accounts are now an aspect of post release that is changing for the better. The point being that if you do not equip former prisoners for the outside world they are less likely to be able to fit into that outside world and slip back into their old life of crime.
One argument is that having voting rights reminds short term prisoners that they are ultimately still a part of society, and if they behave they can integrate back into that society. But the opposing argument is that by committing a crime you are sentenced to prison and therefore you must surrender some of your civil rights in that society such as voting. I will be looking at the evidence, and the effects on short sentence prisoners in detail, before voting on this issue.
I do not look at this issue as a European Court matter, I look at it very much in terms of civil society and rehabilitation of offenders. There is little prospect of long sentence prisoners getting the vote from parliament in my view, but the short term sentences are going to be where, I suspect, the heat of the argument is fought over. The PM has made his view clear, which is that giving all prisoners the vote would make him "physically sick."