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Votes for prisoners

(68 Posts)
absentgrana Thu 22-Nov-12 11:49:25

The Government is going to have to tackle this one very soon. The EU judgement is that a blanket ban on allowing prisoners to vote is illegal but it is up to the governments of individual member states to decide which prisoners, if any, should be deprived of their vote.

David Cameron famously said that the thought of prisoners being given the vote made him"physically ill". I can't help thinking that this was something of an exaggeration. However, I can see that many people would balk at prisoners convicted of serious crimes such as murder being given the vote. However, I find the idea of allowing the vote to those serving short sentences for much more minor crimes, who probably shouldn't be in prison in the first place, perfectly acceptable.

What I don't find acceptable is the suggestion from the Tory right that the EU ruling should be ignored and the blanket ban continued. This will invite ever increasing fines – which would have to be paid from the revenues collected to run the country. MPs were no elected deliberately to act against the Human Rights Act or deliberately to waste taxpayers' money.

Finally, the argument that some other member states are not complying with this judgement is neither here nor there.

Barrow Thu 22-Nov-12 13:05:16

I don't like the idea of prisoners being allowed to vote - if they choose to ignore the rights of the general population to go about their lives without being burgled, mugged, attacked, raped or murdered then they should not expect to be included in the normal rights of civilised people.

However, I do take your point that failure to comply with the EU ruling could entail UK having to pay fines so I would suggest anyone serving a sentence of longer than 6 months lose the right to vote.

janthea Thu 22-Nov-12 13:10:38

I'm with you, Barrow on this.

Ana Thu 22-Nov-12 13:11:42

I agree - and obviously it would have to be by post, couldn't have them queueing up at the polling stations!

glitabo Thu 22-Nov-12 13:17:22

I don't understand why prisoners should not be allowed to vote.
As for postal votes that is one idea, but another would be to put voting booths in the prison.

janthea Thu 22-Nov-12 13:21:34

I don't actually think they deserve the vote. Hardly law abiding citizens! If you step outside the law, why should you be allowed to vote on matters that affect other people.

absentgrana Thu 22-Nov-12 13:22:33

glitabo I agree. Loss of freedom is the punishment; they are still citizens of the country. A polling station in the prison can't be that hard to organise. However, that could have an interesting effect on the poll in place such as Wandsworth, Brixton, the Isle of Wight.

Bearing in mind the public mood – how about allowing those prisoners due for release within the lifetime of the parliament about to be elected being allowed to vote?

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 13:28:16

I agree with absent and glitabo. Prisoners on short sentences, or those being rehabilitated in readiness for release, should be encouraged to behave like responsible citizens. That means learning skills and preparing for work if appropriate, how to live on a tight budget, conduct relationships with respect, take an interest in their community being a good place to live, and use their vote.

I don't see the point of long term prisoners having a vote until they have earned it by achieving enhanced status through good behaviour and a willingness to address their offending, to the extent that they consistently demonstrate that their attitude has changed for the better.

Riverwalk Thu 22-Nov-12 13:33:23

I don't lose sleep over prisoners not being allowed to vote - after all they are hardly civic-minded - how many of then voted before they were imprisoned?

Maybe the right to vote could be something that they earn.

Greatnan Thu 22-Nov-12 13:36:36

There are huge numbers of people in prison who have not committed violent crimes - women are far more likely to be given a custodial sentence for offences like shoplifting or soliciting. They are not a sub-species - people can get into trouble for all kinds of reasons.
I think prisoners would need to have postal votes based on their address at the time when their sentence began.
Leaving aside humanitarian considerations, it is common sense to try to integrate prisoners back into the community - it has been shown that men who are able to keep in contact with their partners and children are less likely to reoffend.
I have never been charged with a crime, but I know there used to be times when I was over the limit for driving, so I was just lucky. (Don't worry, I never drink and drive now).
I am sure many of you are absolutely convinced that no circumstances would ever lead you to be anything less than a perfect citizen, but please let us have some compassion for those who don't live up to your standards.

york46 Thu 22-Nov-12 14:17:26

I agree with Riverwalk - just how many prisoners DID vote when they were "on the outside"?

Greatnan Thu 22-Nov-12 14:19:12

How many of our members have always voted - does it mean that if they haven't they should lose the right to vote?

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 14:25:15

Women are less likely to be imprisoned for shoplifting and soliciting these days Greatnan unless they are coercing someone else to do it, or it is aggravated in extreme ways, such as doing the same thing persistently following arrest and caution or fine. The usual range of penalties has been absolute or conditional discharge, fine, probation supervision, community payback and/or ASBO. Their ability to vote wouldn't be affected, but professionals working with offenders would argue that women committing frequent petty offences aren't known for having a sense of what it means to be a citizen, or exercising their right to vote, and if they come into contact with such services in any meaningful way, this issue is raised with them.

The first thing we usually found was that they weren't on the electoral role. It would be part of a piece of work looking at whether they have ID, bank accounts, debt, the right benefits or regular work, their own address etc. Having a vote is something we often take for granted, but for many offenders, especially women, it is a milestone in their rehabilitation and sense of having a stake in society.

glitabo Thu 22-Nov-12 15:05:48

Riverwalk just how would you assess when someone has earned the right to vote?

Riverwalk Thu 22-Nov-12 15:34:29

glitabo I was originally thinking in terms of the government dealing with the fact that a blanket ban on voting is not allowed. Prisoners earn privileges during their sentences - this could be one of them.

when's post was very informative - I assume she works in the criminal justice system - it was interesting to note that most of her clients aren't even on the electoral roll.

I seriously doubt if there are many prisoners who are caused much grief by the fact that they can't vote - they have more pressing things to worry about such as treatment for addictions, debt, chaotic family life, etc.

I had a three-day mental health secondment at a large London prison and talked to many prisoners and attended various case reviews with the prisoners present - all their concerns were on the things mentioned above, no-one talked about voting.

I think this movement is led by ambulance-chaser lawyers fattening their wallets on Legal Aid.

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 15:36:36

I'm retired now Riverwalk - probation officer.

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 15:43:58

I think it is important to look at why all these offenders haven't voted. They don't get their voting card through the post if they haven't registered for one, don't understand voting, maybe need help with completing forms, don't have their own tenancy or a permanent address. We're all used to putting our cards in a prominent place to remind us to vote. Many offenders don't have that sort of lifestyle, so voting is not high on their agenda.

Riverwalk Thu 22-Nov-12 15:44:09

A fascinating career when.

During my three-day stint I was flabbergasted to learn just how many crimes are drug-related - it seemed that almost everyone was inside for dealing, growing, theft to feed a habit, violence between gangs, drug mules, etc.

I obviously knew it was a problem but didn't realise the extent.

Is it the case or just my perception?

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 16:09:05

A high percentage of offenders are inside for drug-rated offences Riverwalk and it's difficult to distinguish between the drugs and other issues. So many with mental health problems (that might strike a chord here on Gransnet) and many haven't grown up in families, but in the care system, where they have avoided close oversight and been made to make their own way without the necessary ability on leaving care. By then, the ones who can manage without having a run-in with the authorities are few and far between.

Greatnan Thu 22-Nov-12 16:17:44

I believe that there are many people in prison who should not be there but have been let down by the education, health or care systems, or given insufficient help when leaving the armed forces. How easy it is for those of us who had loving homes, decent eduation, stable employment, etc. to look down on anybody who had been less fortunate.

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 16:41:26

You've raised a very good point there Greatnan. What about the right to vote of a soldier who has faced combat in Afghanistan, been sent home suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, then lashed out during flashbacks and killed someone? 10 years in custody, then whilst undergoing treatment and showing exemplary behaviour inside, he realises he can fight for his country but no longer vote for the politicians who decide whether troops will be sent to Afghanistan. There are many soldiers who have ended up as drug addicts and suffering PTSD, who serve prison sentences, not hospital orders.

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 16:44:15

I should add - there are nearly 90,000 people in UK prisons. 1 in 10 of them is an ex-soldier!

Riverwalk Thu 22-Nov-12 16:52:03

I support Crisis, a charity for the homeless - a high percentage of those sleeping on the streets are also ex-soldiers, and those who've been 'in care'.

What an unfair world we've created for ourselves.

whenim64 Thu 22-Nov-12 17:01:11

That's good to hear Riverwalk. Homeless ex-soldiers are the majority of the older homeless people who used to be stereotyped as tramps living rough. I worked in a day centre for homeless offenders many years ago. SAAFA were able to assist some of them, many of them mentally ill as a result of fighting in wars.

johanna Thu 22-Nov-12 20:59:22

So, is this about people with long term sentences?
Those with a short sentence would ONLY not be able to vote if the general election happened to be during their SHORT sentence. General election once every four years.
Not a big deal then.

Different situation for lifers I suppose. But agree with upthread , if you don't want to be a member of a law abiding society ( society= awful word ) then there is no reason why you should vote for it.

Not talking about our soldiers of course. They deserve different treatment.!