It's invoice-writing night and tomorrow is Smoky-Drinky night. It's the end of a big, big project with a large invoice attached so there will be much boozing tomorrow night. So I might be a little less vocal for a few days, to the relief of many. Hold on to your hats though, because I'm close to stopping work for the year. I've almost earned as much as I intend to for this year.
One thing that's been coming up lately has been 'votes for prisoners'. I've had to think about that because it wasn't at first obvious whether to say 'yes' or 'no'. Iain Dale gave it a definite 'no' but then, as Old Holborn points out, it's not that long ago that Iain Dale's personal preferences were illegal, and he'd have been sent to prison simply for being himself, as Oscar Wilde was.
With Labour's legislative legacy still on the books, people can go to prison for defending themselves or for a whole range of non-crimes and trivia. I don't consider a pensioner unable to pay their council tax a criminal, but the law does. Should they be denied the vote, along with murderers and rapists? I don't think they should.
I can agree with Subrosa that the Beetlejuice-impersonating axe-wielding maniac who has decided all prisoners have 'human rights' shouldn't be voting. I don't want to be represented by anyone he thinks would be a good choice. However, in the next cell might be someone locked up for defending his family from a similar axe-wielding maniac. He should not be in prison at all, and should not be denied the vote.
Prison is no deterrent to crime these days. Free food and accommodation, playstations, TV, library, gymnasium and you can smoke indoors. It's better than the homes most of these criminals have on the outside. Sure, they lose their freedom but for most of them, what does that mean? The freedom to wander around a five-block radius and hang around street corners and beat people up? It's not like they miss the golf course or that holiday villa in Tenerife, is it? Most of them have very narrow natural ranges. For many, a trip to prison will be the furthest from home they've ever travelled. They can fit right in to the grey concrete because it's just like the depressing blocks they came from and like those blocks, it's full of thugs with a few decent people to pick on. Home from home.
Guido hints at another potential problem with voting prisoners. Elected police chiefs. If you live near a big prison, you can expect your elected police chief to go by the name of 'Slasher' or 'Wayne the Hammer' and to end every nasally-extracted sentence with 'Innit?' Inside that prison, all the thugs from all over the place are voting for your local police chief. That's not good.
So for local elections - no. Having a local concentration of prisoners means that any town with a prison is going to get a skewed election. Unless someone is going to go to the trouble of giving them postal votes - and even then, particular areas will still get Commissioner Headbanger in charge of their police. So, no.
What about national elections? As I said, not all those prisoners have done anything that the Real World would consider criminal. You don't have to scroll very far down the Ambush Predator blog to find yet another case of the law criminalising people who haven't, in any sensible world, done anything wrong.
I have a different idea.
What if, instead of denying prisoners the vote, we denied it only to persistent offenders? Those who keep coming back could be banned from voting for five or ten years, longer if they keep it up. This would have interesting effects.
Those in prison for first offences, which will be the case with home defenders and smoking ban flouters, will still be able to vote. Those who use prison as a regular holiday destination will not.
Perhaps more interesting will be the reaction of those who bang on about 'criminals rights' because the more they defend those criminals, the more criminal acts they perform, and soon the criminals will no longer be able to vote for those who support their rights. Once that realisation hits, the number of MPs, councillors, or any elected official supporting those on the criminals' side will drop off sharply.
Finally, it solves the problem of the elected police chiefs. The worst offenders, those who would benefit from a police chief who would direct officers to leave Sweaty Bob the Fence alone, simply won't have a vote.
I opted for a five or ten year ban because if it was a life ban there'd be no incentive to reform. Stop the criminal lifestyle and you can have your vote back. And your benefits, which should also be withdrawn for career criminals, as OH suggests. This is only about the vote, we can argue about pillories, stocks and birching another time.
The electoral roll is as computerised as everything else these days so all it would take is an 'X' placed next to a repeat offender's name, with a subroutine that removes it after a predetermined time. Marked ones don't get sent a polling card and don't appear on the polling station's lists.
It doesn't sound expensive or difficult to me, but I wouldn't be the one who has to implement it so I don't know. Sure, some inept council official will mark the wrong names but that's solved by sacking the inept - a different subject.
Opinions? Could it work? I'm pretty sure it would be fairer than either a blanket ban or a blanket permit on votes for prisoners.