Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Should Inmates Have the Right to Vote?

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That’s been the subject of debate today in Parliament — alas, I wouldn’t count on seeing Congress take up the issue any time soon. Granted, the debate seems to have been mostly a formality to appease the European Court of Human Rights, which issued a ruling critical of the UK’s blanket inmate voting ban in part because it hasn’t been subject to democratic debate in recent memory. (Just had some momentary fun imagining the reaction of, say, House Republicans if the European Court of Human Rights started telling them what to do.)

The Guardian‘s Andrew Sparrow live-blogged the debate. For the most part, the MPs are like the British public: not really all that interested in extending voting rights to “criminals,” just because the ECHR says they should. But here are some highlights from the dissenters:

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake: Prisoners have committed a crime, their punishment is to lose their liberty – that is fair and just. What is then gained by seeking to inflict civil death on them? In what way does it benefit the victim and does it increase the chance of rehabilitation? What is the logic behind this ban? We do not remove prisoners’ access to healthcare or we don’t stop them practising their religion, so why should we impose a blanket ban on a prisoner’s right to vote?

Labour MP Denis MacShane: 1.09pm: Labour’s Denis MacShane is speaking now. He urges MPs not to throw away the tradition of “classic, bleeding-heart, do-gooding British liberalism”. Russia also has a ban on prisoner voting. But in that country criminals get elected, he says.

We are turing our back today on more than a century and a half of prison reform. Someone may enter prison as a criminal. But hopefully they will leave as a future citizen.

You can read Denis MacShane’s full commentary on the issue here at Progressonline. He decries the rise of “populist illiberalism” in the House of Commons. We in America say, Welcome to the club!

Written by sara

February 10, 2011 at 11:13 am

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