Draft legislation today on prisoners’ right to vote raises other questions about the nature of justice, and punishment – a different aspect of human rights.
The difficulty in allowing, as required by the EU, people in the UK imprisoned for crime against the law to cast their ballot in elections is that the majority of prisoners do not want to be in jail: they are resentful, some are angry, some continue to break the law from prison using intermediaries, and many re-offend as soon as they are released. The prison population is close to 100,000 now, which is a large and potentially influential body, one which could affect election results markedly: it must be questioned as to how fair and balanced such a large group would be in voting for their democratic representatives and makers of the laws which have caused them to be incarcerated.
The concern must be that some prisoners would vote in a spirit of mischief-making or revenge, perhaps for far right or far left political groups, and the result could change the election outcome dramatically. It would not necessarily be bad, for change is always to be welcomed, but it could make local or national government much more difficult than it would otherwise be.
The bigger question is why there are so many prisons and prisoners: it is about why there is such a feeling of alienation from the community among the breakers of the law, why they have so few values, why the community itself cannot deal with wrongdoers better, why even minor offences like traffic violations can end up with a prison sentence. Surely there is a simpler, more effective way of correction for minor crime?
Human rights apply both to offenders and to the community they offend against, and when it comes to prisoners’ right to vote, intent on the part of those in prison and of those who will legislate on the subject is key. If his human right to vote is used, intentionally, by a prisoner for the greater good of his country and not in a negative or destructive sense, it is fair for him to have his vote, just as legislators must decide on prisoners’ rights without prejudice and with the desire to do what is right overall. Unfortunately, there must be doubt as to whether either aspects of intent would become manifest as MPs decide and prisoners react. And, meanwhile, the prison population continues to grow.