The North Yorkshire Police website is home to a sad collection of faces. Faces guilty of crimes including assault, theft, blackmail, tax evasion, drug dealing and even manslaughter. They are all serving prison sentences of up to four years and they will all be eligible to vote under new legislation to be introduced next year. The change comes following pressure from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the government to remove the blanket ban on prisoners’ eligibility to vote. The ECHR believes the ban to be an infringement of prisoners’ rights.
Prisoners cannot reasonably claim that their rights are being infringed upon when they have directly deprived another person of theirs. In 2001, John Hirst, who served 25 years for killing his landlady, challenged the removal of prisoners’ enfranchisement in court, but was dismissed. In 2005, Hirst then went on to appeal with success to the ECHR. He has been a relentless campaigner for the prisoner’s right to vote, and this week rejoiced at the announcement in a homemade video where he stated, “I’m now going to celebrate for the 75,000 prisoners who will be getting the vote – that includes murderers, rapists, paedophiles, all of them will be getting the vote because it’s their human right to have the vote.”
This all comes from a man who, after an unprovoked attack on his landlady with an axe, calmly went to make a cup of coffee, and drank it as she lay fatalling wounded in the next room. Criminals deprive others of their rights, and at the very least they should have their liberties restricted as part of their punishment. His landlady will never vote again, so why should Hirst?
Regardless of a prisoner’s crime or history, once in prison the fact of the matter is this: a prisoner’s living costs are paid for by the tax payer, whilst they do not contribute to society in any way. As a result, their temporary disenfranchisement seems only fair, preventing them from having a voice in the system that they have rejected.
We must consider the future. If the ECHR and the likes of John Hirst have succeeded in making the government back down this far on the grounds of human rights infringement, then where will it stop? Like it or not, prisoners serving sentences longer than four years are still entitled to their human rights, so it is not inconceivable to consider that in the future, those convicted of the worst crimes will be able to vote.
Criminals undergoing their punishment deserve to be disenfranchised as a result of their actions. Once a sentence has been served and an inmate re-enters society, they then have the opportunity to contribute again in a positive way. Only then should they be enfranchised, and allowed a voice equal to yours or mine.