Prisoners Right To Vote

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  • Created by: Livvi
  • Created on: 14-05-14 18:33

In order to consider the case for and against individuals convicted and imprisoned retaining an entitlement to vote, one must first consider the justifications for punishment. Hart (1959) and Rawls (1955) argue that the practice of punishment must be justified by reference either to backward-looking or to forward-looking considerations. Lichtenberg (2001) notes how philosophers have traditionally distinguished the difference between the two forms of justifications for punishment. The backward-looking approach is called the deontological approach, which looks to what has already happened and is often linked with retribution, revenge and an eye for an eye. The idea is that one who harms others deserves to suffer, arguing that punishment is just and necessary to restore moral balance.  On the other hand, forward-looking are consequentialist: they justify punishment as a means of bringing about some supposed good consequences, such as preventing or deterring further violence, or rehabilitating the wrongdoer.

The practical application and justification of punishment has shown a marked drift away from efforts to reform and rehabilitate offenders in favour of retribution and incarceration during the past half-century. Criminologists and penologists have become increasingly disenchanted with the rehabilitative effects of programs conducted in prisons, there has also been scepticism over the deterrent effects of punishment as an effective goal to pursue in punishment. This left only two possible rational aims to pursue in the practice of punishment under law: social defence through incarceration, and retributivism. By this route the goals of incapacitation and retribution came to dominate and in a way supersede the goals of rehabilitation and deterrence (Forst, 1993).

White (2014) states at least 18 European nations have no form of electoral ban for imprisoned offenders, including, Finland, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland which passed the Electoral Act in 2006, giving Irish prisoners the first opportunity to exercise their franchise in a general election in May 2007 (Behan, 2011). In other countries, the electoral disqualifications depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence, for example, France. For the UK prisoners serving a custodial sentence do not currently have the right to vote, but prisoners on remand are able to vote under the provisions of the representation of the People Act 2000. The disenfranchisement of prisoners dates back to the Forfeiture Act 1870, this act denied offenders their rights to citizenship (White, 2014). However, since the Hirst (No.2) v. the United Kingdom case the Grand Chamber of the European court of Human Rights has taken a strong stance on this issue, ruling that a blanket of disenfranchisement of those serving custodial sentences is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights (King’s Student Law Review, 2013).  The Hirst case involved an applicant who as a convicted prisoner in detention was subject to a blanket ban on voting in elections. The applicant had completed the part of his sentence relating to punishment and deterrence but was not allowed to vote during the remainder of his sentence, when he was being detained on the


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