The European Court of Human Rights ruled that prisoners should have the right to vote in 2005. Politicians of all political hues have been doing their best to dodge changing the law ever since. Our beloved coalition is now having to face up to the issue and comply with the ruling or face having to pay huge amounts in compensation to prisoners – and they’re all getting very steamed up about it.
They say they’re steamed up because murderers and rapists will get the vote. That doesn’t have to be the case. They are well aware that the ECHR ruling is not an absolute judgement. Any legislation can exclude certain categories of offender. No, their motivation is entirely a selfish one. I believe they see this as golden opportunity to boost their popularity by being seen to be tough on crime – and criminals. And, as the ‘oh so compassionate’ MP for Shipley, Philip Davies admitted last night, MP’s are worried about the effect of the prisoner vote on constituency election results. Oh dear!
There may well be a very good argument for excluding certain categories of offender. To make matters simple, judges could make the decision on sentencing, providing they had very clear guidelines. There is no good reason why the vast majority of prisoners should be denied the vote.
Britain has one of the highest prison populations in the western world, which says a great deal about our divided society. We are apparently happy for prisoners to languish in overcrowded 19th century gaols, bored, aimless and forgotten. We do the bare minimum to rehabilitate them. They get a very raw deal from a society that after years of selfish individualism, has become insensible to the human costs of our purposeful neglect. Prison reform is only initiated through crisis. Those that inhabit our gaols don’t matter because they are politically unimportant. They must matter, and they must matter to our politicians. That is why giving prisoners the vote is so important.