Prisoners who have committed minor offences should not be denied the right to vote despite doing wrong. Shouldn’t we look past their mistakes, for those who with minor transgressions such as vandalism, and be “the bigger person”, trying to make them better individuals instead of deterring them from their human right to vote?
As the Bishop to HM Prisons, the Right Reverend Dr Peter Selby, pointed out, “society’s belief [is] that once convicted you are a non-person, one who should have no say in how our society is to develop, whose opinion is to count for nothing”. Shouldn’t we, as a society, be encouraging prisoners to reform and reintegrate rather than being permanently being destroyed by their mistakes? We are all humans, as Dr Selby has reiterated; allowing prisoners to vote is an imperative to bring prisoners back into society and allow them to vote in a currently unrepresented environment – prison.
Not only would some of the political campaigning be tailored to prisoners but the significance of politics would be highlighted within prisons to give prisoners an understanding of how the country is governed. John Hirst, a British convicted killer, expressed his opinion on prisoners’ voting, influenced by his own experience: “What you have got there is actually a mini-community – behind prison walls, the same as outside it’s only smaller – it’s a microcosm of it. So politics is a very big thing in prison.”
It could be argued that politics can help rehabilitate inmates into their “normal everyday lives” outside of prison as it can illustrate regular routine and organised structuring, for example by following general elections every five years. As well as encouraging structure in prisoners’ daily lives inside, and later outside of prison, voting could be used to nurture a positive political passion. This passion could flourish once sentences are completed so that prisoners would meet a wider range of inspiring people and become involved on a local basis politically. This could be a long-term aim to lower participation in criminal activity which, with high reoffending rates of 59 per cent in the UK, shows the inefficacy of the status quo and how a dramatic voting change is needed for prisoners.
13 European countries, including Italy, Malta and Poland, have electoral disqualification depending upon the severity of the crime or the length of the sentence. In Greece, there are varying tiers of banning – for example, someone who receives a life sentence is unable to vote, even after they have been released. In Austria, those whose sentences were longer than one year were banned from voting until 2005, and after the case of Frodl v Austria  at the European Court of Human Rights, the Austrian government allowed inmates to vote in all scenarios except where the offence was relevant to voting, such as electoral fraud.
Germany also adopts the same attitude to Austria, as it bans inmates whose crimes undermine “democratic order”, like political insurgents. Apart from those who undermine “democratic order”, German law does encourage most prisoners to vote. Where the offence is relevant to voting, however, it is most certainly sensible to not give inmates the ability to vote as it ensures that they are unable to corrupt or endanger electoral procedures.
The German attitude towards prisoners’ voting should be emulated in the UK, as it has the fairest approach. It allows most prisoners to vote who have committed minor offences, with the exception of those who have committed the most heinous of offences such as insurgents who have fought against the authorities. This approach is more flexible and is not too harsh on those who have committed less serious crimes.
The clear inconsistency worldwide on whether to allow prisoners to vote reiterates the controversy and need for a definite decision. Allowing prisoners to vote would be an incentive to reform, become productive citizens and also to feel valued members of the community. By doing this, the UK will gradually become an undisputedly tolerant and well-rounded country by allowing all citizens to be able to contribute to society. The message is clear: for those doing time, it’s time for change.