SOWING THE SEEDS OF DEMOCRACY
a public dialogue about prisoner voting rights
- learn / engage / contribute -
About THE PROJECT
Civil death refers to the suspended or diminished status of citizenship that occurs when a person goes to prison. In the UK, convicted prisoners lose the right to vote whilst incarcerated – this is called disenfranchisement. It is an overlooked ‘pain’ of imprisonment and seems to contradict the aims of rehabilitation. Civic Dignity seeks to explore and illuminate the experience of disenfranchisement through prisoners’ art and narratives. The intention is to stimulate a public dialogue on prisoner voting rights and inclusive civic and political participation more broadly.
- What does it feel like to be barred from voting?
- Is disenfranchisement reasonable or justifiable punishment? What does it achieve?
- What impact does political exclusion have on individuals, communities, and democracy?
- In what ways do prisoners practice alternative forms of active citizenship behind bars?
About THE PROJECT
Civil death refers to the suspended or diminished status of citizenship that occurs when a person goes to prison. In the UK, convicted prisoners lose the right to vote whilst incarcerated – this is called disenfranchisement. It is an overlooked ‘pain’ of imprisonment and seems to contradict the aims of rehabilitation. Civic Dignity seeks to explore and illuminate the experience of disenfranchisement through prisoners’ art and narratives. The intention is to stimulate a public dialogue on prisoner voting rights and civic and political participation more broadly.
What does it feel like to be barred from voting?
Is disenfranchisement reasonable or justifiable punishment? What does it achieve?
What impact does political exclusion have on individuals, communities, and democracy?
In what ways do prisoners practice alternative forms of active citizenship behind bars?
join the conversation
What is a public dialogue? It is a process in which members of the public interact with scientists, stakeholders, and policymakers to reflect and deliberate on issues relevant to future policy decisions. This online forum encourages public engagement through art and creative expression.
The majority of prisoners will return to the community at some point. That makes all of us stakeholders, including those with lived experience of the criminal justice system.
Civic Dignity wants to hear from you!
The public dialogue comes to life through drawing, photography, blog, reflection, poetry, song, sculpture, narrative, and other mixed media forms.
To contribute to the gallery, please get in touch. Submissions are welcome from all members of the public.
at a glance
Britain is the only western European country with a blanket ban on prisoner voting.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s blanket ban preventing all convicted prisoners from voting, irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offenses, constituted a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Recently, Scotland and Wales have begun to extend the franchise to some prisoners following consultation with the public. Similar efforts and reforms have taken place in Canada and Australia. England, however, has not consulted the public on this issue.
The legal and penological reasoning for prisoner disenfranchisement is weak. No available evidence indicates that losing the right to vote acts as a deterrent to crime.
The harms associated with marginalisation are well documented, as are the characteristics of prisoners, who are disproportionately impacted by social, economic, political, and educational exclusion.
A growing body of research suggests that political and civic enfranchisement can generate protective factors linked to better outcomes, like reduced (re)offending, improved wellbeing, and strengthened social ties.
Views On Prisoner Voting Rights
“David Cameron said it makes him sick – SICK! – to think of someone like me voting. What can you say to that? It’s like a kick to the teeth … No, I’ve never voted and I probably won’t in the future. But that’s not the point. There is violence in what he says – he is sending a seriously loaded message: you are not worthy and you are no longer part of society in this way. Yeah, but you know what, this is exactly why I don’t vote … He doesn’t represent me or know my life. I have never been part of ‘his’ society.”
Sauvé v. Canada
supreme court judgment, 2002
[D]enying penitentiary inmates the right to vote is more likely to send messages that undermine respect for the law and democracy than messages that enhance those values. The legitimacy of the law and the obligation to obey the law flow directly from the right of every citizen to vote. To deny prisoners the right to vote is to lose an important means of teaching them democratic values and social responsibility. The government’s novel political theory that would permit elected representatives to disenfranchise a segment of the population finds no place in a democracy built upon principles of inclusiveness, equality, and citizen participation.
prison officer, england
“Prisoners should lose the right to vote – it’s part of the punishment … I do see the argument on the other side though; maybe we should think about civic participation as part of rehabilitation. You know, strengthening ties to the community and all that. But …”
prime minister of the uk, 2010-16
“It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison.” (House of Commons debate, 2010)
prison officer, norway
“They’re [prisoners] still citizens – they’re still part of our society … We want good neighbours, not angry or alienated ones, don’t we? I don’t understand how pushing them further to the margins is good for anyone.”
“I am upset that I can’t vote – I understand why I can’t, I guess, but I’m still a member of society, you know. Up until this [his conviction] I would have been considered a ‘good’ citizen – my wife and I volunteer, we’re involved in the local council, our daughter’s school association, we pay taxes … Voting really matters to me and for my daughter’s future too. You’re not just voting for now, for your circumstances in that moment, you’re voting for the future and the legacy you leave behind … Here [in prison] there’s at least a sense of hope and redemption in the air, like a mist – these words about rehabilitation, reintegration, transformation float around – it’s not always in practice, of course, but at least it kind of exists … When [David] Cameron said it makes him physically ill to contemplate prisoners voting, well, that’s black and white, isn’t it? There is no hope or redemption in that … That’s when your status as a prisoner becomes crystal clear – you really have been cast out.”