Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Denying prisoners of the vote can only cause social and political harm

I have been following the developments of this issue since the very start when the Coalition took office in May 2010 and must say that on balance it is wrong to deny voting rights to prisoners serving short sentences.

But let us be realistic, the government’s commitment to ensuring prisoner’s voting rights are kept away from them has proved highly popular, but it seems that what the Coalition are doing over this issue is more consumed with garnering a much needed boost to popularity, rather than to bring about any positive change.

Why is it worth all this effort? The government have been at loggerheads with the European Court of Human Rights for several years now. Is this part of a wider agenda of being seen to repatriate powers from Brussels and other such International institutions? Or do they believe it will make a meaningful difference in the criminal justice system, worth all this hassle?

Politics aside, the denial of  the vote from prisoners can only cause harm, rather than good. It can only further disenfranchise criminals and unnecessarily disrupt their integration back into civilised, law abiding and decent society. It certainly will have little crime-deterring or retributive effect, as very few prisoners are inclined to vote anyway.

What the government always have to do with issues of this nature is get the balance right between retribution and rehabilitation. It seems on balance to me, that the Coalition have got it very wrong on this issue. 

What we are talking about is not the voting rights of murderers and rapists here; we are talking about shoplifters, drug dealers, burglars and other ‘petty’ criminals tried at a Magistrates’ Court. What possible positive effect does this elicit?   Criminals need not be given any legitimacy for feeling hard-done-by and disenfranchised. The State must not risk giving further ammunition to apologists who explain away the causes of crime as being the fault of the wider law-abiding majority. The Coalition ought to set the standard to which prisoners should abide, and this is by the standards and practices of the law-abiders in society. This includes voting.

Universal suffrage is the bedrock to any developed democratic system In which all can succeed or fail based on the own endeavours. Disproportionate legal discrimination against certain sections of our society is against the grain of a One Nation government. To use in vogue language, never must we risk, through statute, the development of Two-Nations. One of law-abiding and civilised people, and the rest being of another Nation: that of chronic and an unwelcome Underclass.

I used the term ‘underclass’ because non-voting is a defining characteristic of people who are in this ‘Underclass’ that is the uneducated, the long-term unemployed and in general, the persistently and permanently impoverished. It is a crime to trap these people in poverty through disproportionately comfortable welfare subsistence, taking away any incentive of the individual to improve their condition (both financial and social) through finding work. Such welfare encourages dependency which strips them of any hope of the dignity of self-sufficiency., Likewise though, it is a crime to take away the suffrage of a prisoner, making their sense of disenfranchisement and resentment of the law-abiding majority ever more ingrained, trapping them in a culture of crime by taking away the incentive of being part of civilised society, which for these people within this culture, is already the far tougher option.

Should this whole issue be dictated by the EU and the European Court of Human Rights? No, if this is purely a matter of political principle, then I'd back the government's stance on this, However, viewing the issue at hand as a principle in itself, then for me I have to disagree with the government.

However, where the issue is complicated again, is in the politics. Cameron is not campaigning to take away the vote from prisoners, rather he is fighting to stop prisoners being given the vote, and at that, by an external institution, undermining the democratic will of Westminster. Whilst I think prisoners on short sentences should, as a matter of principle, be able to vote, democracy (ironically) dictates that the motion shall never be supported by government. It is however, and probably shall remain, an oddity in our free and democratic country that we don't reserve the taking away of civil rights for only the most serious of offenders.

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