Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Right To Vote For Prisoners

David Cameron says that the thought of prisoners having the vote makes him feel ‘physically ill’.

I could suggest any number of issues that should have priority for the Prime Minister’s nausea. Just for starters:

  • Vital benefits taken from disabled people, the chronically ill and their families;
  • Job losses in key front line professions such as social workers, nurses and police officers;
  • Massive hand-outs to the rich through cuts to the top rate of tax;
  • Horrific executions in Syria while the international community stands by and expels a few diplomats.

I could go on. My point is that of all the horrendous issues facing this country and the world, the question of whether people in prison should have the right to do what less than 40% of the rest of the population can be bothered to do is one that should cause him the least loss of sleep.

Britain imprisons a lot of its people – 151 per 100,000. Only Spain in Western Europe incarcerates more (320 per 100,000), although we are nowhere the world-leading position of the USA, which locks up a staggering 750 per 100,000. Iceland only locks up 55 per 100,000.  A recent report said 70% of prisoners suffered from two or more mental illnesses and many, particularly women, are in prison for relatively minor offences.

We send people to prison to punish them, protect society and hopefully to secure some sort of rehabilitation, although resources are so tightly stretched that this latter is taking a back seat. Which one of those objectives is served by denying prisoners a say in who runs society? Surely trying engage offenders in the democratic process, helping to them see some of the causes of their situation and the impact of their crimes is an essential part of turning their lives around?

Opposition to this European Court ruling on the part of the Government – aided and abetted by Labour – is much more about populist ‘we won’t be told what to do by Europe’ bravado.

In stark contrast, three members of the House of Lords – Peers of the Realm – who recently served prison sentences for stealing public money have, upon release, retained their peerages and right to vote in Parliament on the laws of this nation.

Does that make you feel sick Mr Cameron?