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The United Kingdom Is Forced to Let Prisoners Vote The United Kingdom Is Forced to Let Prisoners Vote

The United Kingdom Is Forced to Let Prisoners Vote

by Andrew Price
November 4, 2010

The United Kingdom has just lost a battle with the European court of human rights (located in the spectacular building above), and is being forced to give prisoners the right to vote.

Sentenced prisoners were originally denied the right to take part in ballots under the Forfeiture Act 1870, and the ban was retained in the Representation of the People Act 1983. Prisoners on remand awaiting trial, fine defaulters and people jailed for contempt of court can vote.

Following a legal challenge from prisoner John Hirst, the ECHR ruled in 2004 that the blanket ban was discriminatory and breached the European convention on human rights. However the Strasbourg-based court said that each country can decide which offences should carry restrictions to voting rights.

The government can decide exactly how and when to move away from the existing law. Some particularly egregious offenders may still not be able to vote. But it's clear the blanket ban on all prisoners voting is ending.

This is good news for Britain. Allowing prisoners to vote in advance of their release might well help foster a sense of civic engagement that makes their reintegration into society easier. And really, what's the harm in letting prisoners—especially sane, nonviolent ones—vote? Does the threat of not being able to vote serve as a super-effective deterrent? Doubtful. Does withholding their franchise contribute to some awesome program of rehabilitation? Unlikely.

As of now, by the way, 14 American states ban anyone with a felony conviction from voting for the rest of their life. And given the rate at which we throw people in prison, that ends up permanently disenfranchising a lot of people.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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