Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Should Prisoners Get The Vote?

By Euclides Montes (@Gatulino)

The British broadsheets are reporting that the government is poised to bring the UK in line with most European countries and allow prisoners to participate in the electoral process by voting.

This is one of those heated topics that usually divide people throughout the country regardless of their political leanings. So, should prisoners get the vote? And what does this question in itself mean for the role of the prison system in modern society?

On the one side, there are those that would argue that prisoners have excluded themselves from the rights law-abiding citizens enjoy, including the right to take part in participatory democracy. Those on this side of the debate often liken voting to undertaking jury duty and they argue that a person who has been given a prison sentence has also effectively given up their right and that this is a privilege of sorts that can only be regained once the prisoner has paid their debt to society. This disenfranchisement of prisoners is very much in line with the way the prison system worked in British society for most of the 19th and 20th century where a prisoner was understood to have lost their citizenship rights.

This is a view that has been disputed for a long time and the other side of the argument has gained a real foothold of the debate in modern society. Those in favour of giving prisoners the vote usually argue that rather than a right, voting should be seen as a civic duty and giving prisoners the opportunity to join in with wider society is a useful tool in their process of reintegration. Beyond that, an argument that has driven this debate over the last decade is that by giving prisoners the vote and raising their electoral capital in the process, politicians would pay closer attention to our prison system as it would mutate from a problematic field of policy into a possible source of important votes during an election.

Although it’s quite clear that there is probably not a right or wrong answer, allow me to have a go at answering the question of this ponder.

My personal feeling is that it really depends on how we view prisons and their role in society. Whilst it is a very valid view that prisons should remain a place where those who have transgressed against society pay their penance, I personally believe that prisons should instead be a place where prisoners are rehabilitated and given the tools to rejoin and be able to participate fully in their society. An eye for eye is a bit outdated for my liking and a prison term should not be seen as a payment for faults but as a system that helps our fellow citizens to gain the skills needed to be integral parts of their society. I believe voting, or rather having the choice to partake in participatory democracy, is a key part of this rehabilitation. As such, I personally welcome this move. How about you?

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent excellent! And spot on with the distinction between voting as a right and voting as a civic duty. It will come as no surprise to you to know that I think that prisoners should be given the right to vote in order to fulfill their civic duties.

    However, I also think that it's an issue requiring a very thoughtful and cautious approach and not simply a case of flinging open the polling booth doors. For instance, what restrictions should politicians be subject to if they chose to campaign in prisons? Or, what constituency would prisoners be eligible to vote in? There are many more for instances... those aside, I would wholeheartedly support such a development.