The prisoner’s right to vote and civic responsibility: Reaffirming the social contract?
From Probation Journal
UK headlines this week have prompted significant public debate regarding the issue of a prisoner’s right to vote. The current law in the UK is that convicted prisoners (with few exceptions) are denied the right to vote in national or local elections while they are incarcerated. Five years ago the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled the UK’s long-standing voting ban was unlawful. Ministers have been advised that continuing to resist the ruling would lead to costly compensation payouts. Some commentators have added fuel to the fire by suggesting “The only thing worse than giving prisoners the vote would be giving them the vote and having to pay them damages.”
This article considers the Government’s justification for the ban, whether the arguments in favour of disenfranchisement are convincing, and whether the problems raised by the ban will be resolved by the Government’s limited proposals for change. The Government has justified its current position on the grounds that the majority of the public are against restoring the vote. There is a belief by some that allowing prisoners votes would undermine prison order or security. In contrast the trend worldwide, including Europe, is towards re-enfranchisement. UK supporters for change include the Chief Inspector of Prisons, some prison governors and prison reform groups. The supporters for change argue the shift should be pursued on the grounds of both principle and policy and argue that enfranchisement actually promotes social cohesion and inclusion, and reinforces the core values of democracy.
This article considers the issue of the prisoner’s right to vote in the light of recent developments in law and policy. It critically reviews the purported justifications for disenfranchisement and argues that re-enfranchisement should be pursued on the grounds of both principle and policy.
Easton, S. (2009). The prisoner ‘s right to vote and civic responsibility: Reaffirming the social contract? Probation Journal, 56 (3), 224-237 DOI: 10.1177/0264550509337455