Prisoners and the vote; squaring the democratic circle….
You wont read me writing this many times so I would treasure it; I, broadly speaking, welcome the governments move to give prisoners the vote. I understand why this is a sensitive issue and why people will object but the bottom line is the arguments in favour are too persuasive. Aside from the consistent democratic principle the argument that tilts it decisively in my eyes is the positive potential of giving the vote to prisoners for rehabilitation.
People who insist that prison is about punishment miss this component out of their calculations. Prison is also about rehabilitating criminals so they can return to society. Although a degree of separation is necessary too much is clearly unhealthy and counterproductive. When in doubt I find the opinion of those involved can be a handy guide. The Prison Governors Association feel the ban is:
“out of step in a modern prison service and runs counter to resettlement work which aims to ensure that prisoners lead a responsible, law-abiding life on release.”
Furthermore, I am inclined to agree with John Hirst, who brought the case, that denying prisoners the vote is counterproductive because it denies them a legitimate channel for their grievances and “all they can do is riot”.
According to the Daily Telegraph:
“judges may be given responsibility for eventually deciding which criminals are allowed to vote when they are sentenced.”
This proposal must be resisted because the judiciary, to be blunt, cannot be trusted to use this power in a politically impartial way. Instead, that particular power should be left in the hands of an independent panel; a citizens jury as it were. Democratising the justice process is tricky issue; because on the one hand more democracy is a good thing but on the other in this issue the specter of mob rule looms dangerously large. However, this step in favour of further of democracy is a good one and one that Labour should support.