Strangeways, Manchester, UK. April 1990. Credit: Manchester Evening News

UK PRISONER VOTING RIGHTS

Brendan O’Friel, the governor in charge of Strangeways during 25 days of famous unrest beginning April 1st, 1990 has backed moves to give UK prisoners the vote.

O’Friel says the controversy is being deliberately stirred up for political reasons. He told the Manchester Evening News:

“I think it is a totally sensible thing to give prisoners the right to vote and then encourage them to vote. Whatever those people have done it is a question of trying to make sure that they are going to make a contribution to the community rather than being a drain on it. Anything we can do to encourage them to take responsibility and think positively is a very good thing.”

O’Friel’s view is not the concensus in the UK. In November 2010, The European Court of Human Rights ruled that denying the vote to prisoners was a violation of their human rights.

However, in early February the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to reject any lifting of the ban, opposing the move by 234 to 22. By doing so they face a class-action lawsuit which could cost the British taxpayer millions in damages for as long as the government denies prisoners their vote.

The ridiculous thing about this is that the figures (approximately 90,000) would barely effect election results. This is expensive folly by Britain’s politicians.

The UK prisoner voting ban has been in place since 1870.

For comparison, The Telegraph reports:

“Many developed countries have some form of prisoner voting including 28 other European nations such as France, Germany and Italy. Russia and Japan exclude all convicted prisoners. Just two states in America allow it while others do not even give the vote back when inmates leave prison. Prisoners can vote in two of seven states in Australia.”

PRISONER VOTING IN AMERICA

In 2010, judges in Washington State found that felon disenfranchisement laws unfairly impacted minorities as they were more likely to be subject to racial inequalities in the application of policing procedure.

From the ever-excellent Prison Law Blog:

“On Sept. 21, the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, an important case that could affect the voting rights of prisoners in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Hawaii, and Arizona. Back in January, a split Ninth Circuit panel ruled that, in Washington State, “minorities are more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, detained, and ultimately prosecuted,” and that, because “some people becom[e] felons not just because they have committed a crime, but because of their race, then that felon status cannot, under section 2 of the [Voting Rights Act], disqualify felons from voting.”

Washington State appealed and the discussion is likely to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s about time both Britain and the U.S. move into the 21st Century. From the Sentencing Law and Policy blog:

“According to a report co-published by Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system, disenfranchisement laws are “a vestige of medieval times when offenders were banished from the community and suffered ‘civil death.’  Brought from Europe to the colonies, these laws gained new political salience at the end the nineteenth century when disgruntled whites in a number of Southern states adopted them and other ostensibly race-neutral voting restrictions in an effort to exclude blacks from the vote.”

For more on prisoner and ex-prisoner disenfranchisement, read Michelle Alexander. She condenses the arguments of her very successful book, The New Jim Crow, here.

STRANGEWAYS ON PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY

Strangeways, 20th Anniversary

Ged Murray at Strangeways

Strangeways Riot and Don McPhee

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(M.E.N. story found via Jailhouse Lawyer)

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