Thursday, 4 November 2010
Prisoners - the right to vote?
This newspaper article, like many others in the press this week deals with the recent news that the British government are going to have to face up to the European Court of Human Rights' decision that UK prisoners should be allowed to vote.
I am really delighted that UK prisoners are to be given the vote. In reality, I think, not all that many prisoners will want to exercise that right, and, even if they did, they aren't such a huge percentage of the population that the outcome of any election would be really affected.
(1) Britain has traditionally smugly seen itself as being one of the "good guys" in terms of human rights but must walk the walk as well as talking the talk. If China (see the photo above) can be giving prisoners the right to vote, who are we to cast aspersions on their human rights record whilst being so proud of our own?
(2) What we in society want our prisoners to gain whilst in custody is a sense of responsibility. Yet what prison actually does is remove all responsibility from offenders, taking away almost all their power to decide anything, institutionalising them, and in fact infantilising them. Allowing and encouraging prisoners to vote would help a little to mitigate against this negative process, allowing them some autonomy and enabling them to feel like stakeholders in the society we want them to contribute to rather than damaging.
What has made me sad this week, though, is the tone of much of the "red top" tabloid coverage of this in the media, and also the government itself's presentation of the thing. It is being presented as a Bad Thing that we are having to give in, at last, very reluctantly, to this pressure when really we would much rather not. I find that sad and disturbing. (Mind you, and I'll leave my rant on this for another day) much of the media coverage on offenders upsets me, so I shouldn't be surprised.