Essential for a Free and Fair Society
by CJ Walters
A prisoner’s right to vote is a litmus test for whether a Government trusts in the fairness of its own policies. The very principle of imprisonment is that a small minority of people are being separated from society in order to protect the majority. If that minority ever grows so large that their vote could sway an election then the very principle is rendered invalid. Something in society must change for those scales to tip back the other way and that growing minority must be a part of it; otherwise they are political prisoners – their votes deliberately suppressed.
Let me give you an example from history. During his time as President Richard Nixon had two main sources of opposition: the anti-Vietnam war movement and African Americans. He couldn’t openly lock up them up for protesting or for being black; so instead he started his War on Drugs. He used it as a casus belli to go after both groups. That way he could imprison them thereby suppressing both their opposition and their vote.
This War on Drugs has continued along with many other policies that disproportionately target Black, Asian, and Minority Ethinic (BAME) groups as well as the poor of all ethnicities. You’re more likely to be incarcerated if you are BAME, come from a broken home, if you don’t have stable accommodation, and if you have an addiction – where you will then lose your right to vote. But those are arguably the people we need to hear from most, those that are personally experiencing the issues that are in one way or another affect all of society. Instead, you are most likely to turn up to vote if you are over 65 and white.
Currently, anyone who is released from prison in the UK gets their right to vote reinstated. It’s also worth mentioning that if you are fortunate enough to be at an open prison it is possible for you to vote if your Release on Temporary Licence happens to line up with the correct day, but it is extremely unlikely the authorities would allow you out for that specific purpose.
The right to vote should be a Human Right for those of legal age and every prisoner should retain that right. If that would make politicians think twice then good. They might more carefully consider who they are putting in jail and exactly what kind of rehabilitation they’re offering.