Earlier today, CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network), the social action arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales hosted a lively debate at the Labour Party Conference on the issue of prisoner voting.
The debate, which was chaired by Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos discussed the blanket ban on prisoner voting in the UK. Speakers included Helen O’ Brien, Chief Executive of CSAN; Mark Day, Head of Policy at the Prison Reform Trust and Wayne David MP, Shadow Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform.
Speaking to a packed room, Helen O’Brien, Chief Executive of CSAN said that rationale for a blanket ban on prisoner voting “does not serve the interests of justice and does not serve the interests of our society.”
Helen O’Brien noted that whilst it might be “naive to suggest that re-enfranchisement is some kind of magic bullet which will instantly break cycles of re-offending and turn all prisoners into good citizens; it is infinitely preferable to the status quo of social exclusion which remains both unjustified and unjust. We call for prisons to be a place of redemption. Removing a blanket ban on this iconic responsibility of citizenship would be a good step on that journey.”
Emphasising the issue of social exclusion, Mark Day, Head of Policy at the Prison Reform Trust said: “Social exclusion is a major cause of crime and reoffending. Removing the right to vote reinforces this exclusion by signalling to serving prisoners that, at least for the duration of their sentence, they do not count”.
Wayne David MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform stressed that “the majority of the public would be aghast at the thought of prisoners getting the vote” and questioned the European Court of Human Right’s judgment noting that it failed to reach a unanimous decision on this issue.
The audience consisting of Labour conference delegates, including practising lawyers, probation officers and police officers, contributed to an animated debate questioning the link between rehabilitation and prisoner voting as well as emphasising the human dignity of prisoners and stressing the importance of the UK meeting its human rights responsibilities.