Leading article: Prisoners' votes: no case for double punishment

Share
Related Topics

Plenty of hot air was expended in the House of Commons yesterday over the "bunch of unelected judges in Strasbourg" who ruled it was illegal for the British Parliament to maintain its 140-year-old practice of depriving convicted criminals of the right to vote. Let's leave aside the question of whether judges are best elected, or even that of whether it would be sensible to secede from a European Court set up after the war at the behest of Winston Churchill, to ensure that human rights should never again be as at risk in Europe as they had been from Nazi Germany.

The key issue is whether it is right for criminals to be subjected to what the Victorians called the "civic death" of disenfranchisement in addition to deprivation of liberty. Populist bombast comes easily to the lips here. But it is one thing to be outraged by crime – and indignant on behalf of its victims – and quite another to endorse a status quo which is bad for both prisoners and wider society.

Almost two-thirds of all prisoners reoffend within two years of release. Improved methods of rehabilitation are urgently needed inside our prisons. Some are practical. But shifts are also required in our attitudes, so that prisoners are treated less as passive objects, than as people who can author their own reform. A system which places them outside full citizenship is not part of that civilising process.

To see the reductio ad absurdum of the current approach, look to those 10 American states which strip prisoners of the vote for life, even after release. In Florida nearly a third of black men now cannot vote. Anything which further isolates prisoners already on the margins of society – and encourages their sense of alienation from the community to which they will return when released – is a bad thing.

That is true for all of us, not just prisoners. People do not forfeit their human rights when they enter prison. They retain the right to food and shelter, to respect, to not being subjected to torture. Some rights, like that to family life, are necessarily curtailed by prison but not extinguished. The same is true of our right to participate in decisions affecting our lives. That is key to the principle of universal suffrage which is at the heart of our democracy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links