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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Outdated approach to votes for prisoners

Outdated approach to votes for prisoners

Letters, The Guardian

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Government plans to enfranchise prisoners serving sentences of up to four years are a welcome step towards complying with the 2004 European court judgment that declared the UK's blanket ban unlawful (An affront to democracy, 10 January). Almost all of our European neighbours allow prisoners to vote; to pay their debt to society while remaining a part of it. Our outdated approach, enshrined in the Forfeiture Act 1870, to condemn people to "civic death" does the opposite.

No better touchstone for a modern, civilised prison system has been offered since the then home secretary, Winston Churchill, stated in the Commons on 20 July 1910: "The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state, and even those of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it."

Voting will allow people in prison to take civic responsibility. Prison governors support prisoners voting as an ordinary part of resettlement. The Prison Service sees no practical difficulties in enabling them to vote. The Electoral Commission has set out a mechanism by which people in custody can vote by post or proxy.

The message that we can pick and choose which laws we obey is a poor one, for people in prison and for society as a whole. We hope parliament will now support sensible measures to begin to implement the judgment so people in prison are able take part in this year's elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and in local constituencies.

Peter Bottomley MP Conservative, Worthing West, Robin Corbett Labour, House of Lords, Kate Green MP Labour, Stretford and Urmston, Rt Rev James Jones Bishop of Liverpool, Veronica Linklater Liberal Democrat, House of Lords, Caroline Lucas MP Green, Brighton Pavilion, Eoin McLellan-Murray President, Prison Governors' Association, Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust, Shami Chakrabarti Director, Liberty, Jon Collins Director, Criminal Justice Alliance, Frances Crook Director, Howard League for Penal Reform, Bobby Cummines Director, Unlock, Alison Hannah Executive director, Penal Reform International, Professor Philip Leach London Metropolitan University, and director, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Roger Smith Director, Justice, David Ramsbotham House of Lords

Comment: I welcome this coalition of supporters onto my bandwagon to push forward the Prisoners Votes Case to its conclusion. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is noteably absent from that list...

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