Saturday, 12 February 2011

Time to do the "Con-Con"

The issue of allowing prisoners the vote has been one of the big domestic political stories of the week. I had the misfortune to listen to the shrill rantings of the sad Thatcher-lite Pritti Patel on Thursday. Her sense of self-righteous indignation convinced me that she is completely on the wrong side of this argument.

In Britain, we lock up a larger proportion of the adult population than any other western European country and we bask in the perception that ALL criminals require punishment and the more severe the better. The coherent arguments about rehabilitation and recidivism are swept away in the tornado of moral dystopia surrounding this issue.

Of course, there must be punishment but our prisons are too often full of people who shouldn't be there - petty thieves, people who don't pay their fines and others who probably need mental and educational care and time rather than custodial sentences. To disenfranchise people like that is clearly wrong and needs to be addressed.

As for more serious offenders, such as murderers and rapists, it's a more difficult issue but our system is one of universal franchise and the key word is "universal". We should all have the right to have a say about our country and its future. You don't lose your vote if you've lost your reason through dementia but you do if you are a criminal and that seems illogical.

The irony is that it's probable a number of prisoners might be Conservative voters but that's not the issue either. The argument that taking a life forfeits the right is powerful but I don't see where the line can or should be drawn. In any case, a liberal, as distinct from "muscular liberal" society is defined by values such as tolerance and inclusivity. To exclude a group from a fundamental democratic right, no matter how heinous their offence (for which they are punished within the criminal justice system) when they can, for example, work and earn money, seems illogical.

We need to look beyond retribution and anger and consider how inclusion within democratic activity might be a tiny step toward inclusion within the rest of society.

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