Equal rights for all?
This short report briefly identifies and questions a prisoner’s right to vote. It questions whether or not being outlawed from society outlaws you from having a voice in society.
In recent years, the UK Government has been discussing and debating whether prisoners should have a say in their Government and be granted the right to vote or not. This debate has sparked many opposing viewpoints, not only between political parties, between citizens too. The recent media attention and coverage has prompted many questions regarding what rights and responsibilities prisoners have or should have, if any.
The debate for the prisoners’ rights to vote began in the UK when John Hirst (a convicted killer and self taught lawyer) decided to appeal the voting ban placed upon prisoners. Hirst started his journey for prisoners’ rights by taking his case to Britain’s high court in 2001 and when the court dismissed it, he took it even further. In 2004, Hirst took his case to the European Court of Human rights who then ruled, that on the basis of Article 3 of the first Protocol, that the British Government was breaching the European Convention on Human Rights. Hirst argued that Article 3 of the first Protocol states that elections should be carried out fairly; the point was then raised that nowhere in the European Convention does it specifically exclude prisoners from voting. At the end of 2010, the Council of Europe has demanded that the UK puts this law into practice.
What exactly would the benefits be if we allowed prisoners to vote? First of all, allowing prisoners to vote would avoid future cases like Hirsts, where prisoners may be entitled to compensation, therefore by allowing prisoners to vote the Government would save millions. Another thing to take into consideration when considering prisoner responsibilities is that everyone in prison isn’t there for a long-term sentence. So, what rights do the prisoners serving a three-month sentence have? Surely, if they’ve committed very mild crimes they should be allowed to have a say in the Government considering it will affect them when they finish their sentence and by allowing the approximately 70,000 prisons to vote could also drastically change the power that certain parties may have within parliament. The problem is defining what prisoners are allowed the right to vote, adding a lot of “ifs” and “buts” into the equation is bound to cause complications within the law and anger within the prisoners.
On the other hand, it could be argued that all prisoners have gave up their right to vote by breaking the law and not complying with Governmental laws. After all, who would want a mass murderer or rapist to have a say in how the country is run? Would it be a fair assumption to say that law-abiding citizens would feel cheated if pedophiles were allowed to vote? It’s unquestionable that part of the Governments’ resistance towards allowing prisoners the vote is the worry that it would undermine and ridicule the justice system; therefore, losing it’s status within society.
When the Government finally decides how they’re going to go about distributing the vote between prisoners, they’re going to have to tread very carefully. In order to maintain a balanced level of respect regarding the state-citizen relationship they must create a balance between the satisfaction of the law-abiding citizen and the satisfaction of the prisoner. Only allowing prisoners who have a short term sentence for a milder crime the right to vote would establish a sense of contribution to those who don’t pose as a serious threat to the state, while at the same time, preventing outside civilians from thinking any less of the Government or justice system.