Prisoner votes: the compromise
The idea that people should have their basic rights (indeed duties) as citizens withheld because they are in prison is, of course, very stupid, and very illogical. It simply sends the message that those who are in prison have no stake in the society into which they will sooner or later be released (bar a handful of full life-termers).
Nevertheless, the Tories and Labour find themselves stuck in a stupid-grapple, both sides desperate to look tougher than the other on criminals – this despite, on the one hand, the insignificance of the issue when it comes to actual voting, and, on the other, the very large reputational significance of potentially being the only European country other than Belarus not to be member of the Council of Europe. Even the usual sensible lefties appear reluctant to speak out on this one.
But what strikes me most of all about the current idiocy is that not a single one of the brilliant minds in parliament has come up with the obvious compromise solution.
Instead of putting forward legislative options for votes for people serving less than 6 months, or four years, or whatever, why not afford the vote to any prisoner who is on unescorted day release as part of their pre-release rehabilitation?
This could be done either by expecting prisoners in such a category to make a specific request to be released for the day on election day and allowing them to get on the electoral register on this basis (the measliest option), or by allowing them the postal vote so that they can vote (the slightly less measly option, given that most day release prisoners are too far from home to vote in person).
Yes, of course it would be much easier, and I suspect actually administratively cheaper, to allow prisoners to stay on the electoral register at their last pre-prison address (or the address where family lives now) and just let forwarding of postal vote applications, then ballot papers, happen, but if MPs really are determined to show how tough they are on the crims, then according the vote to those considered rehabilitated enough to be back in the community anyway will allow them to save face while meeting the ECHR demands for the end of a universal ban.
In 2009 there were 189, 810 unescorted day releases. Most prisoners do quite a few pre-release, so we’re probably only talking a few thousand votes – something even most crim-heavy MP may be able to stomach.
Of course this excludes short-stay prisoners for home day release is not an option, but if the objective is simply to find a compromise and move on to something less stupid instead, then MPs are likely to be OK with that.
And from the point of view of sensible people, who think going to prison shouldn’t include the removal of democratic rights, this might at least be seen as a first step in the right direction, and something on which a future sensible government might build, especially if the legislation is drawn up in such a way that a future Minister for Common Sense can simply use a Statutory Instrument to expand voting rights, once it’s been proven that giving people in cells a vote doesn’t make society implode overnight.
Any MPs with any sense out there? On either side?