"No prisoner should have the vote"
Some key terms;
"The vote" - the right to political, democratic representation. Be warned, this debate will be fairly Anglo-centric; bear this in mind before accepting it.
"Prisoner" - a person tried and found guilty of a crime, to whom prison time is conferred.
"No prisoner" implies an absolute blanket ban on voting; the pro position must argue for this, but the con position is not an argument for every prisoner to have a vote. It is the view that some prisoners may be given the vote, and this right may be conditional.
This first round is for acceptance.
(This is my first debate in this format, so if I've missed anything out please let me know/provide it.)
I thank my opponent for accepting this debate - I hope it is a good one too!
Consider, if you will, that you have committed minor fraud, and have received a small sentence. You spend your time in prison across the corridor from a serial killer. Each day that passes makes you a lot closer to your release than each day does for the killer, and each hardship of prison you experience will be experienced for much longer by the killer after you are released, as is right and fair. However, your sentence happens to overlap with a General Election, and both you and the murderer are equally kept from voting.
Would this sound unfair? The International Declaration of Human Rights agrees that yes, this is the case. The lack of differentiation when allotting this punishment and the heavy-handed nature of the voting restriction, purely on the basis of being in prison, is discriminatory.
When a recent article in the Guardian revealed that in some prisons reoffending rates top 70%, it becomes ever clearer that the most important aspect of punishment for crime is the rehabilitation that follows, in order to prevent the cycle of repeating offences and thus drastically reduce crime rates.
Thus, whilst a popular view opposing giving any prisoners the vote argues that it undermines the punishment of being separated from society, I would argue that in taking the vote away from all prisoners you take away a vital, if symbolic, way of rebuilding links to organised society and participation in everyday life. The vote alone would not be entirely sufficient to prevent prisoners from reoffending, but is a simple step with other benefits in terms of rights issues.
Those who see the vote being taken away as a punishment fail to make an important differentiation. Whilst to lock someone up is to further limit their freedom of actions, to take away their vote and thus their representation in parliament is to limit their voice and their freedom of speech. No crime deserves the revoking of the right to freedom of speech, no matter how severe. There may be cases for the criminally insane or mentally infirm who are unable to make a rational choice when voting to lose this right, but not for the sane of mind who have wronged.
This is because the legality of actions and the morality of actions often do not overlap. Whilst the law (and, I would hope, society) believes certain actions wrong, it may be the individual’s opinion differs. Fine, lock them up, as they should not have freedom of actions if we are to keep society in order and protect everybody's rights to freedom from those who would take them away. However, their right to express these views is inalienable.
Another common argument against giving the vote to prisoners claims that they would only vote in their own interests, voting for lower sentences and better conditions. The first stumbling block for this argument is that in theory everyone does. A rich person will vote for low taxes, a poor person for more welfare, so why not a prisoner for less laws and shorter prison stays? Whether this is an objectionable use of a vote or not, the right to vote this way is an option for everyone, and should not affect the right of any demographic to vote.
Crucially, the number of prisoners in the UK as of 2010 was 85000, compared with the total UK population of 61.8 million – meaning prisoners would make up 0.1% of the population. The votes of prisoners will not bring into effect the collapse of society; they are a drop in the ocean of representational politics.
When we lock people up we effectively withdraw them from society just like they are not able to partake In their chosen recreational activity they should not be allowed to express opinion on who should run a society in which they are no longer part of.
You say "" the voting restriction, purely on the basis of being in prison, is discriminatory."" No it is not they committed a crime. They understood the consequences when committing the crime and yet still went through with it.
You say it is not fair that someone who committed fraud should not be allowed a vote. But let me ask you why should someone who has willingly misled someone so he can benefit financially have the same right to decide how our society I run as someone who has worked honestly and hard for there money ?.
"" Whilst to lock someone up is to further limit their freedom of actions"" To lock someone up is partly to stop their actions. However an important part of prison is to deter others from doing the same thing and as such act as a deterrent by taking away their voting right helps the deterrent.
I thank my opponent for their timely response.
You claim that, when we imprison somebody, we separate them from society. This is, to an extent, true; we add further restrictions to the freedom of actions that law-abiding citizens enjoy. This is in order to protect society from the wrongdoers, and is of course reasonable – everybody is restricted to the extent that it protects society, in that even whilst free we may not have total freedom of actions.
We may, however, exercise without limitation our right to freedom of speech. This is the reason why a debate like this may even take place. The law should be able to determine what is unacceptably damaging to society, but not who may determine the law – it is not the place of the government to police thoughts, as Orwell deftly illustrates in his novel 1984. Matters of defining the law should not be restricted by the law itself, or the democratic process is impeded.
Thus, whilst it is reasonable to claim that taking away some freedom of action is justified towards prisoners being dissuaded from offending and towards protecting innocent law-abiding civilians, it cannot be justified to take away their vote. Fine, stop them playing golf – don’t silence them.
After all, the vote is no more of an action than speaking to – or writing to – a local representative; both allow an individual to make tangible changes to society, but are no more than expressing their opinion. Representatives provide the voice of their electorate in matters of law. They are a mouthpiece for opinions, which are protected dearly by freedom of speech.
My point, when claiming preventing people who are imprisoned for fraud from voting is unfair, is that there is no proportion in punishment of this nature. One would expect that such a criminal would be punished less severely than a murderer, say, in all other ways of punishment – why is the removal of a voice in the corridors of power a blanket punishment?
Your point about the nature of prison as a deterrent is a valid one – this is one of its most vital roles. I would argue however that sadly the demographics who are most likely to be imprisoned are the ones that the system has failed; clearly, as they have been driven to crime, this is the case*. Also of sadness is the disproportionate amount of the poorest and least educated in prison. As the general population of for example the UK has a turnout of just 65%** it is unlikely that would-be offenders exercise their right to vote in the first place, let alone see the potential to lose it as a deterrent for breaking the law.
In fact I might argue that, on the contrary, the right for prisoners to vote would lower crime rates. Take for example Bastøy Prison in Norway***, which has the lowest reoffending rates in Europe – if not the world. There, prisoners are not simply punished – they are given back rights according to behaviour, in preparation for becoming reasonable members of a functional society. This strongly suggests that any rights that reconnect prisoners to organised society will be ultimately more fruitful for stopping crime in the manner of dissuading reoffenders than not having these rights would be in terms of dissuading offenders in the first place.
*see www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN04334.pdf for a breakdown of exact demographics etc. for Britain
You claim "" it cannot be justified to take away their vote"". Well prisons contain on average 800 prisoners with the largest in the UK containing 1665. This means that in one constituency there would be 1665 votes from prisoners a very significant number indeed. This would therefore mean that inn constancies where there are large prisons the say of the prisoners would have a significant impact on the vote. This could lead to politicians pandering toward the prisoners.
"" My point, when claiming preventing people who are imprisoned for fraud from voting is unfair, is that there is no proportion in punishment of this nature."" As argued previously they knew they would not be allowed to vote if caught before they committed there crime. They still have chosen to go through with It so it is not disproportionate in fact if they have still willingly gone through with the crime there should be a greater deterrence not a reduced one as you suggest.
The uneven distribution of prisons thought the uk will lead to distorted election results.
They knew they were doing to lose the right to vote before they omitted the crime.
Punishment not a deterrence we therefore need stronger deterrent not a weaker one.
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