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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 06:35 GMT
Call for prisoners' right to vote
Prisoner in his cell
Group says stripping prisoners of voting rights is a 'civic death'
Former inmates, prison reformers and senior politicians are calling for prisoners to be given the vote.

The Barred from Voting campaign is being spearheaded by Unlock, the national association of ex-offenders, and has cross party support from MPs.

More than 50 organisations are calling for the review of the 134-year-old law which means inmates are stripped of their voting rights.

The campaign described the right to vote as an inalienable human right.

In a statement, campaigners said the right to vote was enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

They said the ban was not an effective deterrent and did not contribute to public safety.

Voting in prison can be a useful first step to engaging in society
Peter Bottomley MP

They also suggest the ban contributes to the failure of imprisonment to rehabilitate six out of 10 offenders.

They believe allowing prisoners to vote would encourage them to be more responsible, law-abiding citizens.

Politicians would be forced to take more interest in prison welfare if inmates could vote, the report adds.

Minority groups

The report said denying prisoners the vote undermines the government's civic renewal and active citizenship agenda.

Minority ethnic groups are disproportionately affected due to their over-representation in prison, the report said.

Black men are eight times as likely to be barred from voting than their white counterparts, it claimed.

Mark Oaten, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "Britain's prisons are failing.

"They are failing prisoners, they are failing communities and they are failing the taxpayer.

"If we want people to return to their communities as law-abiding citizens, we must encourage them to play a positive part in shaping their futures."

Peter Bottomley, the Conservative MP and former minister, said: "Ex-offenders and ex-prisoners should be active responsible citizens.

"Voting in prison can be a useful first step to engaging in society."

Society

Peter Selby, Bishop to HM Prisons, said denying convicted prisoners the vote served no purpose of deterrence or reform.

"What it does state in the clearest possible terms is society's belief that once convicted you are a non-person, one who should have no say in how our society is to develop," he said.

Sir David Ramsbotham, the former HM Inspector of Prisons, said: "All citizens of the United Kingdom have the vote by right - not moral authority.

Who else can't vote?
Hereditary peers who are members of the House of Lords
Patients detained in psychiatric hospitals as a result of their crimes
Foreign nationals

"One of the aims of imprisonment is to help prisoners to live useful and law-abiding lives.

"Removing a citizen's right is an additional punishment to the deprivation of liberty."

Most European countries allow prisoners to vote.

Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain are among 18 countries with no ban.

Eight other European countries ban some sentenced prisoners from voting.

In France and Germany, courts have the power to impose loss of voting rights as an additional punishment.

For the second year running England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in the European Union at 141 per 100,000 of the population.




SEE ALSO:
Short prison terms 'not working'
29 Feb 04  |  Scotland
High profile inmates 'must be safe'
13 Jan 04  |  Manchester


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