Saturday, February 13, 2010

Votes for Prisoners - a Human Right or Armchair Liberal Hogwash?

The  Article in the Independent Newspaper on Friday on prisoners' rights to vote, the link to which I have tried to incorporate gives much food for thought especially when  interpreting  'human rights' is often part of day job duties. However my hopes on begining to read the article that it would contain some moral guidance  or  real argument as to why prisoners' should have the right to vote were by the end competely dashed.

The arguments in favour appear to amount to:

1. Europe said so a long time ago.
2. European ministers are fed up with British foot dragging on the issue.
3. Consulting about the issue has gone on for 6 years already.
4. Finland has polling booths in jails.
5. People are sent to jail to lose their liberty not their identity.
6. Prohibition against voting is equivalent to "civic death".
7. The UK is in a tiny minority of    countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Armenia.
8. Rehabiliation of offenders.

Disappointingly these arguments fail to address the substantive issue as to why convicted prisoners should have the vote while in jail. Dealing with the numbered points in turn,  reasonable responses at this time  until persuaded otherwise, appear to me to be:

1. So what? Where's the moral point?
2. So what? Where's the moral point?
3. So what? Where's the moral point?
4. So what? Where's the moral point?
5. This is nonsense.  Each human being is born unique;  our  uniqueness is unaffected by voting or not.
6. This too is nonsense. What do those words actually mean?   Death is final, jail is usually temporary.
7. So what? Where's the moral point?
8,  The concept of rehabilitation of offenders  is obviously  positive but  losing liberty as a quid pro quo for being convicted of crimes, means losing the rights to act as a free man or woman whilst in prison.  

I would welcome an argument to convince me otherwise but currently my view is that not being able to do what one wants or  when one wants to do it is part of the meaning of being a prisoner.  Voting is a right of free men and women in a free society. Committing crimes against that free society means on conviction,  losing rights. Rehabilitation  presumably means learning to appreciate those areas of freedom which may have been taken for granted when committing the crimes for which losing those freedoms is the punishment.

Voting is something which is appreciated more after being deprived of the right to vote. The rehabilitation process should hopefully cause  or to some extent deter prisoners not to take liberties with their fellow citizens'rights again, as the consequences may include losing a number of one's own.

Many free men and women alas do not regard the right to vote as a fundamental part of their lives if  percentage of the electorate which actually bothers to exercise that right in British elections, is any yardstick.

My vote on this topic at present is that 'Liberal Hogwash' has it.


  1. After I had posted the above BBC Radio 4's moral maze programme debated the same point.

    Those on the MoralMaze advocating votes for convicted criminals, emphasised the importance of ignoring public opinion about the issue. Why I wonder? One shouldn't slavishly follow public opinion but ignoring it altogether is going too far the other way. Again they banded about the nonsensical phrase of "Civic death". Overall I still found insufficient argument to provoke a re-think about the conclusion drawn in my main post above.

  2. Cogently argued, as always, Jerry.
    Are many prisoners clamouring for the vote, do you know?


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