MPs have voted against the motion to extend voting rights to prisoners, defying the edict of the European Court of Human Rights. I was still unsure what I felt about this subject until recently. Just over five years ago I touched upon it on my old blog and had no doubts at all:
But it seems to me that while they are serving their sentence, repaying their debt to society, whatever you want to call it, they should also be excluded from the benefits of being part of that society. Voting is one of those privileges. Why should someone who has committed a crime have a say in how society functions in the meantime? When they’ve been released, yes, absolutely they can have their vote back but while they’re in prison? No. It defies sense. It’s the sort of frilly proposition you’d see raised and carried at a Liberal Democrat convention. “Oh, those poor prisoners, serving their time and they don’t have political representation.” Well, you make your own choices don’t you?
I’m not quite so convinced by this argument now. I still generally feel that if someone is in prison it’s for a legitimate reason; they have been removed and excluded from the niceties of society for a specified period. Losing the right – temporarily – to political representation is one of many rights that can be suspended during this time. That said, however, I’ve been considering some of the other arguments and I think they make a stronger case. The best argument I have read was by David Aaronovitch in The Times (subscription only I’m afraid) who built his case around the common sense question: who gains from denying prisoners the vote? The unavoidable answer, when you really think it through: nobody.
Ultimately, regardless of what someone is in prison for, it’s safe to assume that everyone would prefer they come out a better person than when they went in. That won’t necessarily happen of course, but removing the right to vote certainly isn’t going to help. Maintaining a link to greater society is part of the rehabilitative process along with access to the tools of education. I would not be in favour of removing libraries and access to training from prison so why the right to vote?
So yes, I changed my mind. It happens, occasionally.