Thursday, 10 February 2011

Prisoner Votes

Great Men have spoken out previously on the topic of voting, so it felt right to do a brief blog about the current debate over whether or not British law should change from prisoners being denied the vote, to prisoners being allowed a vote, as is standard across Europe.

The advantage of living in a "free" democratic society is that we can have input on how that society is run, in return for playing ball with the rules that have been decided. When someone breaks these rules, they are excluded from the society - i.e. put in prison. If [insert name of a football player from your rival team here] repeatedly picked up the ball and ran into the goal with it, you'd surely be aggrieved if they were permitted to continue playing.

By opting not to accept the limitations of a society, a prisoner also forfeits their right to the benefits of said society. Again I'm reminded of the "I want it all and I don't want to pay for it" attitude that led to and continues to underpin the economic troubles of recent years. You can't have it both ways, it's unfair on the folk who are toeing the line. Admittedly this does run a risk of creating political prisoners, dissidents arrested on trumped up charges, but I am pretty confident that the UK is developed and corruption-free enough that this could not happen, certainly not on a scale necessary to impact the votes.

So in general I think the government is right to deny prisoners the right to vote. The only grey area on which I am troubled is the case of prisoners who will have finished their term before the next vote comes round. For example if there are 5 years between general elections, a prisoner who is released in 1 year will be re-entering a society for which he has not had an input. Maybe this is fair enough - it's no different to someone who is 17 years old at the time of an election. On the other hand maybe we should allow such prisoners the vote as an incentive towards successful rehabilitation. Or maybe, the mathematician inside me postulates, a prisoners vote could be weighted in someway - those on a life sentence get 0, those not in prison get 1, and prisoners who'll be freed are somewhere in between?

I'm looking for some intelligent discussion and ideas here, what have you got?

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