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Thread: The Rights of Prisoners

  1. #1

    Default The Rights of Prisoners

    In the UK there is a growing debate as to the right to vote for criminals who are in prison. I'd like to open up the debate not just to this right but all possible rights.

    Some are undefendable, if you imprison someone you must give them food, maybe only at a minimal standard (bread and water, jam on Sundays), still no matter what you couldn't defend the claim that criminals do not have the right to food.

    And there are rights that should and are rightly deprived from criminal prisoners the right to go where you like (within reason, you don't have a right to go breaking and entering into other peoples property) for one as taking that right away is their punishment

    And there are a whole bunch of rights that are debatable, a right to visitors, a right to vote, a right to health care, a right to entertainment, etc.. that could be taken away or not depending on where you stand.

    I'm not sure where I stand on some issues but the ones below I'm sort of sure about

    For voting, I feel that if you've chosen not to live by rules of the society then you shouldn't be able to have a say in changing those rules. It would be like saying I'm not going to school but I want to vote for prom queen, you have to earn the right to vote by being a part of the system.

    For health care I believe prisoners have a right to a level of health care that any other person is. If you start saying murderers cant have cancer treatments, because they're a murderer, then what treatments should we prevent paedophiles having, how about drug addicts, car thieves, fraudsters, the drunk and disorderly? you draw the line somewhere and all of a sudden you could be condemning people to die slowly and painfully of something curable because they made a mistake as a young adult.

    The right to entertainment, I think you can have your choice of religious or philosophical books but everything else; TV, the internet, movies, magazines, the works of Shakespeare, etc. should be restricted. So mind numbing, passive, stuff should be banned (TV and movies), anything risqué or provides uncensored views or communication with the outside world should be banned (internet, newspapers), Fiction should be approved texts and on the whole educational, Non-Fiction should have a purpose also. Toys and games maybe sometimes but it should be to learn how to interact not just to pass the time, so chess and monopoly would be acceptable and snakes and ladders would be a no. However active and educational things, a pen-pal, exercise and things that can be provided effectively free without a danger to anyone.

    Where do you guys and girls stand?

  2. #2

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    In principle I think prison should be a mixture of reform and punishment. In practice, it seems to mostly fail on both of those. Reform doesn't work too often, and when it does, you end up with a guy who really wants to change and no one will offer him even the shittiest McJob.

    As for the actual question, largely indifferent on voting, with you on health care, and a little more lenient on the entertainment while still cutting out some of the more ludicrous stuff you hear about (HBO, tennis courts..).

    Ultimately I'd like to see more focus on what happens when people get out of prison vice what they do while in there. All that educational material is useless if when they get out and have little choice but to hook up with their old friends and such.

  3. #3

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    The big problem in the United States isn't necessarily the rights that we take away from prisoners while they're in prison. Rather, it's the lasting effects of the conviction on a person's rights. In most places, a person does not get back their right to vote even after they've done their time and served their sentence. In many places, the lag time between finishing a sentence and voting is 10 years, and that's in the places that don't make the person reapply for their right to vote. A convicted felon can never again legally possess a firearm under federal law. Beyond that, employers are legally allowed to ask about a person's criminal record, and answering "Yes" to a question about previous convictions pretty much guarantees the person will never again hold a normal job.

    It seems to me that if a person has served out his or her entire sentence, then that should be it. The person should get all rights back and be able to apply for jobs with the same chance that everyone else has. Otherwise, we're pretty much ensuring that they will become repeat offenders by removing all legitimate options for moving on.

    All that is glossing over the low quality food and awful health care that prisoners receive.

  4. #4

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    Criminals are citizen. I'm not about to see my fellow citizens being striped from the right to vote. If we take away there right to vote, what right will we take away next, or from whom will we take that right away next? And frankly, if a society has enough prisoners to seriously affect an election's result then that society has bigger problems than allowing prisoners the right to vote... I mean in Canada prisoners make up less than 0.12% of the population, realistically its not like they'll be able to pass a soft on crime agenda that suits their interest. Is it really worth setting the precedent that you can take away someone's right to vote because of the potential influence a statically insignificant group might have?

    I honestly think that prisons should be a balance of an environment that is harsh enough that its not appealing but also soft enough as to allow rehabilitation. Though I admit I'd be curious to see Norway's recidivism rates. Ultimately, teaching life and work skills to inmates is the best thing we can do to rehabilitate them - most people don't commit crime if they have a better paying job lined up. And frankly, its not hard to do better paying than crime... pretty much any legitimate job will do

    The goal of the prison system should be to maximize public safety while minimizing the human and capital cost. If that includes making prisoners relatively comfortable then so be it.

  5. #5

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    I was originally very much against prisoners being allowed to vote, but I've since changed my mind. Contrary to popular opinion perhaps, I don't think the entire purpose of prison should be punishment. As far as I'm concerned being locked up serves the purpose of keeping you away from the community if you pose a danger and that restriction (regardless of facilities inside) is punishment enough. If you were told you could never leave your house, even with all the luxuries in the world inside I reckon you'd get fed up pretty quick and want out once in a while. That said, the level of facilities should not be of a greater standard than that routinely available to an average working family.
    Maybe if everyone focussed on rehabilitation a bit more and working prisoners back into the community again, re-offending rates everywhere would drop. That would also save us all a large sum of money (prison is expensive.)

    The main argument against prisoner votes seems to be "you don't respect society's rules - you don't get to make society's rules" which sounds fair enough initially, but does it make a whole lot of sense? Something like murder is a heinous crime, but nobody is going to change the law on that; at our last general election the economy was one of the main points - can anyone give a justified reason why killing someone should deny you the right to have a say in your country's economic policy for the next years? I can about see the argument for barring them voting on specific issues related to their crime (though this isn't realistically possible) but the reality is that most policies they will be expressing their views on have nothing to do with the reason they're in jail. As Near said, they are still citizens and taking the vote from one group of citizens could be the start of a slippery slope.

    What I've heard anecdotally is that quite a few prisoners are actually quite educated when it comes to politics. If your only contact with the outside world is from newspapers or current affairs on TV you might have read a lot about the policies and arguments I guess. Even if not the case, the fraction of the population that are prisoners is so tiny that they are never going to significantly make a difference to the result.
    What worries me a lot more is the amount of people I meet where a conversation goes as follows. "Who are you voting for?" "The Conservatives" "Why?" "Because I always have and my parents always have (and so on...)" "Could you tell me why their policies are better than Labour?" "Because Labour favour scroungers and my party is right." Obviously interchange party and stereotype here as you please, but the fact remains a frighteningly large number of people can't compare policies and give a reasoned explanation of who they are voting for, and will blindly follow things they read in their left/right wing newspaper without any critical analysis. If you only want people who 'deserve' the vote to vote, then you should probably require everyone to pass a test showing they have a basic understanding of each of the main parties' main policies and general political view - I don't see that going well with the public though.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by BoundCoder View Post
    Ultimately I'd like to see more focus on what happens when people get out of prison vice what they do while in there. All that educational material is useless if when they get out and have little choice but to hook up with their old friends and such.


    Quote Originally Posted by xbabyx View Post
    The big problem in the United States isn't necessarily the rights that we take away from prisoners while they're in prison. Rather, it's the lasting effects of the conviction on a person's rights. In most places, a person does not get back their right to vote even after they've done their time and served their sentence. In many places, the lag time between finishing a sentence and voting is 10 years, and that's in the places that don't make the person reapply for their right to vote. A convicted felon can never again legally possess a firearm under federal law. Beyond that, employers are legally allowed to ask about a person's criminal record, and answering "Yes" to a question about previous convictions pretty much guarantees the person will never again hold a normal job.

    It seems to me that if a person has served out his or her entire sentence, then that should be it. The person should get all rights back and be able to apply for jobs with the same chance that everyone else has. Otherwise, we're pretty much ensuring that they will become repeat offenders by removing all legitimate options for moving on.
    I think you're right to an extent, once someone has served their sentence they should within reason be allowed to pursue any job they wish, with a few exceptions, for example they shouldn't be allowed to work directly with children (like in schools), and have all their other rights restored they have been punished that should be the end of it


    Quote Originally Posted by xbabyx View Post
    All that is glossing over the low quality food and awful health care that prisoners receive.
    I agree with the health care but I'm not sure they demand more than a minimum quantity of well cooked food, so they get all the nutrition they need but it doesn't have to be in the form of 3 course gourmet meals, cooked to a standard so not slop, but not extravagant, no deserts etc..


    Quote Originally Posted by Near View Post
    Criminals are citizen. I'm not about to see my fellow citizens being striped from the right to vote. If we take away there right to vote, what right will we take away next, or from whom will we take that right away next?


    Quote Originally Posted by WoodlandWanderer View Post
    The main argument against prisoner votes seems to be "you don't respect society's rules - you don't get to make society's rules" which sounds fair enough initially, but does it make a whole lot of sense? Something like murder is a heinous crime, but nobody is going to change the law on that; at our last general election the economy was one of the main points - can anyone give a justified reason why killing someone should deny you the right to have a say in your country's economic policy for the next years? I can about see the argument for barring them voting on specific issues related to their crime (though this isn't realistically possible) but the reality is that most policies they will be expressing their views on have nothing to do with the reason they're in jail. As Near said, they are still citizens and taking the vote from one group of citizens could be the start of a slippery slope.
    I'm going to choose to argue with you here, the criminals are citizens yes, but being a citizen sort of implies following the rules of the society, by choosing not to follow the rules I personally believe they have given up their entitlement to the rights of a citizen, they still have human rights but the right to vote is not one of those. Put it this way we have not taken it away from them they have chosen to give it up by breaking the laws of the society, when they are ready to return to the society and had adequate punishment for their crime they may become citizens once more.

    There is the problem of you don't get to influence specific issues you have to vote for a candidate that has a say in everything, things like murder won't be over turned but what about reclassification of illegal drugs that could be done, or how about voting for a candidate that favours shortening maximum sentences so life becomes 8 years in prison and 2 years becomes a slap on the wrist. Do drug dealers have a vested interest in economics, how about fraudsters on identity card schemes, you cannot let them have a say exclusively on one issue but not another because I don't have a say on each issue I've picked a candidate that represents me best but that doesn't mean I agree with him/her on individual issues.


    Quote Originally Posted by Near View Post
    And frankly, if a society has enough prisoners to seriously affect an election's result then that society has bigger problems than allowing prisoners the right to vote... I mean in Canada prisoners make up less than 0.12% of the population, realistically its not like they'll be able to pass a soft on crime agenda that suits their interest. Is it really worth setting the precedent that you can take away someone's right to vote because of the potential influence a statically insignificant group might have?


    Quote Originally Posted by WoodlandWanderer View Post
    What I've heard anecdotally is that quite a few prisoners are actually quite educated when it comes to politics. If your only contact with the outside world is from newspapers or current affairs on TV you might have read a lot about the policies and arguments I guess. Even if not the case, the fraction of the population that are prisoners is so tiny that they are never going to significantly make a difference to the result.
    You also have the problem that since prisons are containment facilities they might not be a huge percent of the total but they could be a vote tipping population on some level say a constituency has 60,000 voters and a prison of 10,000 people which isn't unreasonable here in the UK, that changes the percentage from 0.12% to 14.3% and it only takes one vote to make a difference in the vote to abolish corporal punishment in the UK school system was won by a single vote.


    Quote Originally Posted by Near View Post
    I honestly think that prisons should be a balance of an environment that is harsh enough that its not appealing but also soft enough as to allow rehabilitation. Though I admit I'd be curious to see Norway's recidivism rates. Ultimately, teaching life and work skills to inmates is the best thing we can do to rehabilitate them - most people don't commit crime if they have a better paying job lined up. And frankly, its not hard to do better paying than crime... pretty much any legitimate job will do

    The goal of the prison system should be to maximize public safety while minimizing the human and capital cost. If that includes making prisoners relatively comfortable then so be it.


    Quote Originally Posted by WoodlandWanderer View Post
    I was originally very much against prisoners being allowed to vote, but I've since changed my mind. Contrary to popular opinion perhaps, I don't think the entire purpose of prison should be punishment. As far as I'm concerned being locked up serves the purpose of keeping you away from the community if you pose a danger and that restriction (regardless of facilities inside) is punishment enough. If you were told you could never leave your house, even with all the luxuries in the world inside I reckon you'd get fed up pretty quick and want out once in a while. That said, the level of facilities should not be of a greater standard than that routinely available to an average working family.

    Maybe if everyone focussed on rehabilitation a bit more and working prisoners back into the community again, re-offending rates everywhere would drop. That would also save us all a large sum of money (prison is expensive.)
    I think you are correct that prisons should be a balance between being a correctional facility and a punishment, I think it should be a deterrent as well as hearing that prisoners have TVs in their cells even for good behaviour isn't something I think should happen. Criminals should be taught that no matter how bad it is outside inside is worse, at least on the luxury levels. And prisoners who show a willingness to learn from their errors in judgement should be given opportunities to expand their rehabilitation.

    As to giving criminals jobs yes I agree but with millions of unemployed can you expect them to be given a job on the grounds they are an ex-criminal, personally I feel that unless it's a job which requires a CRB check they shouldn't be allowed to ask if you have a criminal record. They should have the same opportunities as anyone else once you're out, any long employment history gaps shouldn't have to be explained either


    Quote Originally Posted by WoodlandWanderer View Post
    What worries me a lot more is the amount of people I meet where a conversation goes as follows. "Who are you voting for?" "The Conservatives" "Why?" "Because I always have and my parents always have (and so on...)" "Could you tell me why their policies are better than Labour?" "Because Labour favour scroungers and my party is right." Obviously interchange party and stereotype here as you please, but the fact remains a frighteningly large number of people can't compare policies and give a reasoned explanation of who they are voting for, and will blindly follow things they read in their left/right wing newspaper without any critical analysis. If you only want people who 'deserve' the vote to vote, then you should probably require everyone to pass a test showing they have a basic understanding of each of the main parties' main policies and general political view - I don't see that going well with the public though.
    I'd agree people need to understand what they're voting for, if you could be asked to vote electronically by being asked a series of questions like which candidates statement do you agree with most on a dozen or so issues rather than a face and a logo then people would get something closer to what they want. I'd also like to make not voting a fine-able offence, in the last general election a meagre 27 out of 62 million people voted, that's less than half and more often than not I find the people who complain don't have their say when it counts, frankly as a nation we get what we deserve.

  7. #7

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    Personally, I don't care whether prisoners can vote. I think the debate about prisoners voting is really just the old debate about how we should treat people in prison in general.
    People who argue that prisoners should be able to vote tend to highlight that prisoners should be involved in the community, and that we shouldn't be turning our backs on them the second they're locked up. I certainly agree with this, but I'm not sure how important voting is in achieving this.

    My issue with the voting debate is giving prisoners the vote is basically just a gesture. It's just a way of saying, "look, we do want you to be part of society, we do want to come out reformed". It's a nice gesture, but I think that's all it is. People who are against them voting sometimes highlight that they've turned their backs on society, they've chosen to void their right to vote. Again, I think their issue isn't with prisoners voting per say, they take issue with the gesture...

    If I had my way, the number one function of a prison would be take in criminals, and pump out people who were likely to a) not re-offend, b) get jobs. If somebody makes the case to me that allowing them to vote helps towards this, then I'll support voting in prisons. But the way the justice system currently works, I can't help but think that giving prisoners the vote is simply pissing in the wind.

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