A Voice Behind Bars: Should Prisoners Be Allowed To Vote?


For the past 134 years prisoners have not been allowed to vote due to the representation of the People Act of 1983. However, a new campaign is trying to overturn this in a bid to reverse the ban. The movement to change this legislation has received support from prolific figures including: The Bishop of Worcester, Peter Selby; Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers; the Prison Governors’ Association and ex-offenders charities Unlock and the Prison Reform Trust.  The thinking behind the campaign is that it will help convicts retain a connection with normal law abiding life. Liberal Democrat, Mark Oaten, spoke out about the benefits that removing the ban would have on the prisoners: "if we want people to return to their communities as law-abiding citizens, we must encourage them to play a positive part in shaping their futures by their own efforts and commitment." That said, however, the government wants to limit the ban to those who have been sentenced to one year or less. This move comes seven years after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that banning convicted killer John Hirst from the polls had breached his right to participate in the democratic process.

So why is the Government considering changing the law after all this time?

The government has been advised that continuing to resist the European Court ruling could lead to compensation payouts to convicts amounting to millions of pounds. David Cameron was reportedly “absolutely horrified” by the movement but has reluctantly accepted because there is no alternative. Despite changing the plan to only give prisoners the vote who have been sentenced to a year or less, MPs are aware that this policy will be tested in the courts and they might lose.

What are the arguments against allowing prisoners the right to vote?

  • The government said the restriction on the right to vote was aimed at preventing crime, punishing offenders and enhancing civil responsibility and respect for the law.
  • Dominic Grieve, the attorney general argued that ‘if convicted rapists and murderers are given the vote it will bring the law into disrepute and many people will see it as making a mockery of justice’.
  • It is thought that prisoners who have committed a crime serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence lose the right to vote whilst they serve their sentence.

What are the arguments for allowing prisoners the right to vote?

  • The European Court of Human Rights argued that there is no evidence to suggest that disenfranchisement helps to prevent crime.
  • Taking the vote away from prisoners counters the rehabilitation of prisoners into law-abiding citizens.
  • John Hirst said: "Every human being has rights and it is up to us all to ensure that those people get those human rights and not say 'Oh, because they're a prisoner they should be denied them…What you forfeit when you go to jail is your liberty - you know, you can't pop down the pub for a pint, you can't have sex with your loved one, you know, that is what you're actually forfeiting - not the vote.'

What do you think? Should prisoners retain the right to vote? Or is it something they should forfeit whilst serving their sentence?

Image Credits: telegraph.co.uk, bbc.co.uk