The issue of whether or not we should let prisoners have the vote keeps coming up time and again recently, and is far from being party political as can be seen from the fact that big names in opposing parties can join up to campaign on the same side. It's not a black and white issue, so I thought I'd outline why I'm in favour of giving prisoners the vote, albeit that there are kinks to work out.
I'm well aware that I'm not on the side of popular public opinion on this one, but do believe there is a case to be made that denying prisoners the right to vote is wrong. Already our prison system focusses too heavily on punishment, with very little done by the way of rehabilitation. It may make the victim of crime feel better to know that the criminal is punished, but it is of little comfort to those who are affected by crime when they are released having being insufficiently rehabilitated.
There are many misconceptions about prisoners, as I have written previously many have serious mental health issues and others are simply a product of their environment. Yes, there is an element of free will, and some people commit despicable acts through nothing but there own volition, but anyone who suggests a criminal is not in any way shaped by their surroundings flies in the face of decades of psychological research.
Now, why is this all relevant to the issue at hand? Because, in my view, the argument against giving prisoners the vote has emotion very much at its heart. It generalises all prisoners to be the same evil beings with nothing but malice in their hearts. If you take that emotion out of the debate, then you can have a much more constructive sharing of opinion.
In my view, taking away the vote has no benefits, no-one is put off crime because of the fear they will no longer be able to vote, and I don't honestly believe any criminal sees their disenfranchisement as a serious punishment for the crime.
However, whilst it doesn't have benefits, it may well have negative consequences. You disenfranchise people from the political process, which could be irreversible. It means you have a system where voting is not an inalienable right but something which is earned. It would not be something I objected to if it was shown to produce results, but as I mentioned, for this loss I see no compensatory benefit.
The proposals that were put forward by Kenneth Clarke seemed to me to be a perfect compromise. I understand some people have strong feelings against serious offenders having the vote, but giving it to those in prison for under four years seemed very modest indeed.
Elections, under the new fixed parliament legislation, would be every five years. This would mean that someone imprisoned for under four years could leave prison and live in a society governed by people over whom they had no vote. It keeps the right to vote away from serious offenders, and even many moderate offenders, but means that those living in free society have a say over who governs them.
It saddens me to see some in my own party oppose even these very moderate suggestions, and of all the things I would wish a backbench Tory rebellion over this is the one I would least like to see. They rebel over these very modest changes yet stay staunchly loyal when Cameron and Clegg bend students and the NHS over a table. It's simply wrong.