Thursday 4 November 2010

Votes for criminals.

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.


Curmudgeon said...

While I am totally against the idea of votes for prisoners, it needs to be pointed out that the intention is that prisoners would have votes in their "home" district where they lived before imprisonment, not in the district where the prison was located.

Otherwise, especially in local elections, you could get some very perverse results.

richard said...

The question is, is it worth having a vote in any case? Look at what we ended up with. I don't vote because the politicians lie in their manifestos and ignore public protests. It's a waste of time at best.

Leg-iron said...

Perhaps, rather than worrying about criminals voting, we should be more concerned about criminals getting voted in?

JuliaM said...

"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. "

This crops up a lot on Insp Gadget's blog as a drawback. It's a totally false fear, though.

The sort of people that Gadget worries about voting in the local thug as police chief don't vote. Ever. Well, maybe for X Factor.

And even if they did, does he really think they wouldn't be outnumbered by the rest of us, who have the motivation to vote in someone who will ensure the police crack open the RIGHT heads..?

P.T. Barnum said...

Isn't there one huge flaw with OH's argument about withdrawing benefits from criminals? He seems to think they'll simply end up doing crappy jobs in box factories. I tend to think they'll just commit more crimes to replace the lost benefits. And given the less than impressive record of convictions for burglary etc. the biggest losers will be the law abiding, not the toerags.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea: if we have to have prisoners voting, why don't we rig their rights so that they make as little difference as possible? Create what in effect would be a Rotten Borough called the Penal Borough, which is elected solely by prisoners. Do this, and the democratic impact of the prisoners' votes is minimised (especially if you permit prison officers and police to give up their local votes and vote in the Penal Borough if they so choose).

cuffleyburgers said...

So your point is that they shouldn't all be denied the vote because some of them are not really criminals - my response to that is that that seems rather arbitrary.

If they are in jail it is because by definition they are criminals and it is entirely correct to deny them the vote (and drugs, tobacco, alcohol by the way).

Sentencing reform is required to ensure that people we, the right thinking majority, do not regard as real criminals, such as smokers, or tax evaders, do not go to jail.

Your point about people defending theri families - well up to a point, but it depends how far away from your house you are when you brain them with a cricket bat, and how many times you hit them after they went down...

David C said...

Giving prisoners the vote probably means that prisoners will never exceed 49% of the adult population, otherwise they would be the majority and the 'free all prisoners and lock up everyone else' party would get in. That has to be a constraint on the 'bang 'em up' crowd and should be appealing to libertarians.
Also prisoners aren't going to get a vote in the constituency where the prison is, but in an area where they have 'a connection'.

Zaphod said...

Those who against votes-for-prisoners seem to be mainly motivated by the desire to punish.

It's a valid motivation, but I'd rather see punishment adjusted by sentence length and discomfort level.

Prisoners are being excluded from society. Unless they're in for life, we kinda hope that they'll come out with a wish to rejoin, not a chip on their shoulder.

Better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

Stop hating them, it's not helping. Be angry with your elected representatives if you think prison is too easy.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Splendid idea, makes sense to me.

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