Once again, addressing the issue of prisoner voting in the UK has been delayed – this time through the drawing up of draft legislation which it is expected will take years to settle, fine-tune and approve. Parliament’s continued defiance of the ruling that prisoners should be permitted to vote blatantly cocks a snook towards the European Court of Human Rights. Indeed, David Cameron has been quoted as saying, “No one should be in any doubt, prisoners are not getting the vote under this government.” Most impressively, this is somehow being dressed as if it is an issue of sovereignty: it is our right as an independent nation to deny access to democracy to our own citizens, apparently. Nice.
Whatever one’s feelings might be on this subject, depriving convicted prisoners of the right to vote does seem somewhat counter-intuitive at present, given that they were perhaps the one sector of society who might have been expected to take an interest in the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Purely for the purposes of comparison, the UK’s prison population on 23rd November 2012 was 86,158, whilst the number of free citizens sufficiently engaged to take the trouble to turn out to vote eight days earlier was around six and a half million.
Surely, in the aftermath of what therefore appears to have been nothing but a shameful waste of around £100 million (at a time when both the prison and police services are facing cuts), it would be sensible to allow those who are, for whatever reason, on the other side of the law – and are therefore perhaps more likely to be affected by “policing policy” – to have an equal opportunity for representation. After all, in the light of the on-going expenses scandals and revelations at the Leveson Inquiry, it looks as though many of our elected leaders might yet end up spending time relaxing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure themselves…
We in the UK are privileged to live in a democracy where freedom of thought and expression are cherished rights. Nonetheless, in a society where even protest is increasingly treated as criminal behaviour, it’s worth remembering that the political landscape could change quite quickly; whether it be through the insidious creep of national security or some sweeping knee-jerk reaction to a threat, either perceived or imagined.
In some countries, prisons hold ‘criminals’ who have been incarcerated merely for their beliefs or their political views. Indeed, in the name of the “war on terror”, the UK itself recently had a number of prisoners who were being held without charge. Is it right that these people should be denied the chance of representation when they may be amongst the most vulnerable and wronged in our society?
As regards regular prisoners: surely excluding those who have already been pushed to the boundaries of society only serves to alienate them further, when prison is surely supposed to be about rehabilitation. What we more probably ought to doing is trying to get those who are detained more involved in the political process as responsible citizens. After all, if we believe in reformed characters then ought we not also to believe in electoral reform?
Given the choice, I think that I would prefer to live in a land where democracy is open to all, rather than just to those whom we are told are entitled to a voice. I only hope that those who have been elected to represent us might remember that they have been elected to represent us all.