I would like to express thanks for the following people who helped during my research for this article:
- Beki T
- Beverley U
- Georgia D
- Heather F
- Steven F
- Rob P
Throughout this article I will be discussing the current rights that prisoners’ have in regards to voting, and how these rights have changed throughout time. I will also be discussing the reasons for and against giving prisoners the right to vote.
Rights to Vote Throughout History
Up until 1969 prisoners could vote however this had to be done by the post. Since 1969 no convicted prisoner has the right to vote. In 2004 the case Hirst V United Kingdom, Hirst believed that some prisoners should have the right to vote; he stated that the blanket ban on voting violates ACT 3 of the First Protocol.
On the 10th February 2011, the debate was held and the House of Commons voted in favor to continue the ban. This continued until May 2012 when Strasbourg Court gave the UK government six months to propose amendments to the Hirst judgment. Three amendments where proposed. These where that the vote be given to:
- Prisoners serving less than 4 years
- Prisoners serving less than 6 months
- Or that it be given to none of the prisoners
The first two were to comply with the judgment however the third went in defiance of Strasbourg. After much debate it was finally decided that a prisoner serving a sentence of less than 12 months can still practise their right to vote. (Lord Phillips, 2014)
The Attitude Towards Prisoners’ Now
Currently there are many privileges and rights that prisoners have. These are countered with punishments when the prisoners do not follow the set rules of the prison. Each prison has a different system that can entitle prisoners to different privileges.
The privileges that prisoners can earn vary from prison to prison. These privileges are earned by prisoners who follow the rules. In some prisons, privileges can include things such televisions, and radios. In most prisons, prisoners can earn more visits from friends and family and can be allowed to spend more money. (Gov,2017)
When a prisoner does not follow the rule of a prison, they will be punished. Each prison has different rules meaning that when prisoners get transferred this can lead to some complications. All punishments are treated accordingly to the situation. Some standard punishments can include a prisoner being given an extra 42 days onto their initial sentence or they could be placed into segregation. (Grabianowski, 2017)
Like everyone, a prisoner has all the basic human rights. Some of these rights include protections from racial harassment and bullying, contact to a solicitor and healthcare, including support for mental health. Prisoners also have the ability to spend between 30 minutes and an hour outside each day. (HG.org, 2017)
Many members of the public believe that prisoners are given too many rights and privileges. Some prisoners even state that it is ‘better on the inside’ (The Telegraph, 2011). Some members of the public believe that the prison service should be more balanced. A Facebook user explained how she thinks the overall sentencing of prisoners need to be more persistent; this is due to the fact that some people who commit crimes such as rape, or a paedophile can get shorter sentences than someone who steals.
Arguments For and Against the Situation
‘Should prisoners have the right to vote?’. A question that has caused a stir in current political debates with some politicians being for and some politicians being against. This has also caused much debate between the public. I will be discussing many reasons for and against in a hope to expand on both sides of the debate.
Firstly, ex-convicts have the right to vote as soon as they leave prison so why shouldn’t they have this right whilst in prison. Many people argue that most prisoners can be reformed so they should still be able to vote. On the other hand, there are still regulations with regards to voting. People who are non-citizens, children and the mentally incompetent are not allowed to vote as the government do not see them as trustworthy. But many people argue that criminals are also not trust worthy and should not have the right to vote, like others seen as unable to vote. (Procon, 2014)
Another argument for is that voting is a basic human right. Some people stated that voting is not a luxury that can be granted, but a right that everyone should be entitled to. However, others believe that prison is meant to be a punishment where prisoners are no longer entitled to their freedom and their rights. This can be justified by stating that a prisoner lost them rights when they committed their crime. (Shami Chakrabarti & Dominic Raab, 2014)
Whilst in prisoner, a prisoner can still take part in many things such as education, exercise and entertainment; this means they can still participate in civic duty’s, such as voting. However, if they have been removed from society, then why should they have a say in the matters of society. (Patrick Buchana & Deam Karemera, 2014)
Parliament decided that a prisoner must earn back their rights whilst in prison, including their right to vote. However most prisoners are sent to prison for the safety of the public; so allowing them to vote does not endanger others (BBC, 2011). Whilst in prison many prisoners will not spend their time keeping up with political debates, or the political news of the world. This means that they may not have a true opinion on who to vote for. A Facebook user pointed out the fact that many prisoners may have a ‘hardened heart’ so may vote for more extreme political parties, just because that is what others are voting for.
Although some people did respond with yes, when asked ‘do you believe that prisoners should have the right to vote?’ the large majority answer no. One Facebook use stated that ‘whatever crime they have committed they have taken someone else’s rights away from them – whether that’s stealing from a shop owner who has the right to earn a decent living, stealing from people’s homes who have a right to live in peace and safety, abusing or raping someone and taking their right to a life without fear, murdering and taking their right to live’. Another Facebook user stated that ‘they [prisoners] shouldn’t have an influence on what happens on the outside’. After much research I have found that most people, who disagree with prisoners having the right to vote, believe the vote shouldn’t be granted due to a prisoner giving up the right to vote when they committed a crime.
In my opinion I believe that a prisoner should have the right to vote; however, this should only be given to prisoners if they are serving a short prison sentence, and only for major political events, such as referendums and general elections. I believe that not all prisoners should be treated the same; for example, someone who stole from a shop should not be treated the same as a murderer and should be entitled to certain rights, such as to vote.
Appendix 1 Facebook
Question: Do you believe that prisoners should have the right to vote? If so why?
- I have thought about this and I think if you’ve committed a crime you have taken the right away from yourself to have the privileges the rest of us have. Prison is a punishment. Whatever crime they have committed they have taken someone else’s rights away from them – whether that’s stealing from a shop owner who has the right to earn a decent living, stealing from people’s homes who have a right to live in peace and safety, abusing or raping someone and taking their right to a life without fear, murdering and taking their right to live…don’t get me wrong, I’m all for training prisoners and helping them to turn their lives around but they need to have consequences to their actions x
- No they give up there right to vote the day they commit the crime. When in prison they have lost there right to freedom.
- No, don’t belive they deserve to have an influence on what happens on the outside
- Another one in the no camp here, and for all the above reasons. They have no qualms taking away innocent people’s rights in one way or another, the judicial system has deemed them unfit to live in society so why should they have the right to have a say in how society is run? What personally concerns me if they were granted the right to vote is that due to their hearts being hardened inside, those who would normally vote for a rationally minded party (if one exists lol!) would become more inclined to vote for a right wing party- naming no names… these parties don’t need more support. That’s just my opinion though x
- Yes, but I don’t think it is workable because which constituency does the vote count? Is it where the prison is or where they live? Prisoner do move around so it would be hard to make it count. Prisoners can vote if they register for a postal vote at their home address.
Appendix 2 Questionnaire
- Do you think the crime a prisoner has committed should affect whether they get to vote?
- If they’ve committed a crime they shouldn’t have a vote no matter what the crime was.
- Do you think the sentence a criminal is serving should affect their right to vote?
- Doesn’t matter if it’s weeks or years, a prisoner should not have the right to vote. I refer to my answer on Facebook
- The UK government believe that no one who is currently serving time should have to right to vote, however the EU believes differently. At times the EU has put pressure on the government to change these laws. To what extent do you think the UK should be subject to EU pressure on whether prisoners should have the right to vote?
- Kind of a mute point now since we’re leaving the EU but I don’t think they had a right to say what happens to our prisoners. If the crime is committed on UK soil then it should be up to our government to say what rights they have…ok maybe the only thing I think the EU should have a say in is making sure the government doesn’t take it too far – ie. So the government doesn’t say prisoners can’t have basic stuff, food, water, etc.
- Do you believe the English prison service should be harsher or more lenient on prisoners?
- Definitely needs to be more balanced. Paedophiles seem to get away with extremely lenient sentences while someone who steals or commits gbh can go down for years. Every crime has a victim but I think if you violate someone then the crime should be heavy.
- Does your answer change dependent on the crime a prisoner has committed?
- Nope though if it involves children then I can understand why people want the harshest sentence going.
Lord Phillips (2014) Should prisoners have the right to vote? [Online] Available at http://www.halsburyslawexchange.co.uk/should-prisoners-have-the-right-to-vote/ (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
Gov (2017) Prison life [Online] Available at https://www.gov.uk/life-in-prison/prisoner-privileges-and-rights (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
ED GRABIANOWSKI (2017) How Prisons Work [Online] Available at http://people.howstuffworks.com/prison3.htm (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
HG.org (2017) Prisoner’s Rights Law [Online] Available at https://www.hg.org/prisoner-rights-law.html (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
The Telegraph (2011) Slopping out case: life of luxury in British jails [Online] Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8789794/Slopping-out-case-life-of-luxury-in-British-jails.html (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
Procon (2014) Top 10 Pros and Cons [Online] Available at http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000283 (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
Shami Chakrabarti & Dominic Raab (2014) Duel: Should prisoners be able to vote? [Online] Available at https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/duel-should-prisoners-be-able-to-vote (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
PATRICK BUCHANA & DEAN KAREMERA (2014) DEBATE: Should prisoners be allowed to vote? [Online] Available at http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2014-09-04/418/ (Accessed: 30/03/2017).
BBC (2011) Q&A: UK prisoners’ right to vote [Online] Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11674014 (Accessed: 30/03/2017).