Prisoner enfranchisement remains one of the few contested electoral issues in twenty first century democracies. It is at the intersection of punishment and representative government. This book is the first comprehensive study of prisoners and the franchise in any jurisdiction. In a democratic polity, the deliberate denial of the right to vote to any section of the population has very serious implications, both symbolic, in terms of devaluing citizenship, and practical, in terms of affecting electoral outcomes. Conversely, the extension of the franchise is similarly emblematic of a political system’s priorities and emphases. The debate about prisoner enfranchisement is significant because it gives us some insights into the objectives of imprisonment, society’s conflicted attitude towards prisoners, the nature of democracy and the concept of citizenship. This book begins by considering the case for and against prisoner enfranchisement and then goes on to examine the jurisprudence in various jurisdictions where it has been a matter of legal and political controversy. Using the Republic of Ireland as a case study, this book analyses the experience of prisoner enfranchisement and locates it in an international context. It argues that the legal position concerning the voting rights of the imprisoned reveals wider historical, political and social influences in the treatment of those confined in penal institutions.
deregulation and social insecurity, it is imperative that we effect
three analytic breaks with the gamut of established approaches to incarceration. First,
Beyond the prison
we must decouple crime from punishment, in light of the glaring and persistent
disconnect between trends and levels in offences and sanctions both within and
across countries. Second, we must recouple social and penalpolicies, insofar as
these two strands of public action were historically fashioned in tandem and are
everywhere aimed at the same
, more needs to be done to achieve
this, both within and without the prison. Encouraging prisoners to
participate as citizens, with opportunities and meaningful spaces in their
community on a daily basis rather than just on election day, offers the
potential for lived citizenship. However, this necessitates reframing
penalpolicy, reimagining the role of imprisonment and re-conceptualising enfranchisement, regarding it as not merely enabling prisoners to
vote, but rather as part of a process of engaging and empowering
The first part of this book outlined the
heartlands, with signiﬁcant variation to be found among
US states as well as between England and Wales and Scotland.20 And one can
point to the continued professional contestation of neoliberal penalpolicies and
the attendant survival and revival of forms of rehabilitation,21 as well as to penal
reform groups whose campaigns continue to monitor and expose the excesses of
neoliberal penality and mobilise around alternative programmes such as restorative
conferencing or ‘justice reinvestment’.
Why does all this matter? Not because it detracts from the persuasive force of
governing prison voting’, 58 per cent do not allow
prisoners to vote. They concluded that it ‘seems that a country’s internal
political and civil freedoms are as important in predicting prison enfranchisement as the classification of a country as a democracy’ (Rottinghaus and Baldwin, 2007: 694). While prisoner enfranchisement may be
influenced by the state of a country’s democracy, it can also be shaped
by its penalpolicy. However, as we will see in many of the jurisdictions
in the next section, judicial rulings, rather than penalpolicy, democratic
examines the Irish experience of prisoner enfranchisement.
It begins by considering the involvement of prisoners in politics prior
to and post-independence. It explores why, despite the prominence of
prisoners and ex-prisoners in the development of the Irish State, the
enhancement of prisoners’ rights and penal reform have rarely been
considered policy priorities. It concludes that, although politicians were
keen to promote their prison past, they were less eager to allow their
experience to inform their penalpolicy. Rather, they were happy to leave
prison behind and
view is still not self-evident and whether it is embraced or not will
in part be determined by the extent to which it can be shown that the death penalty
does or does not serve the penal purposes claimed for it.’ Roger Hood, The Death Penalty:
A World-Wide Perspective (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 5–6.
10 Tapio Lappi-Seppälä, ‘Trust, welfare, and political culture: explaining differences in national
penalpolicies’, in Michael Tonry (ed.) Crime and Justice, Volume 37 (Chicago: Chicago
University Press, 2008).
11 John Braithwaite, Crime, Shame and Reintegration
such a call and demand, a new international prison movement may
develop, inside and outside our prisons. In due course, it might or would turn the
tides. It would give us – our governments, our regional institutions, our global organisations – ten years’ time for hard thinking around the issue of a more civilised and
humane penalpolicy than we have today.
1 Editor’s note: this text was written in November 2008.
2 Helene Oppen Gundhus, ‘“For sikkerhets skyld”: IKT, yrkeskulturer og kunnskapsarbeid i politiet’ (‘“To be on the safe side”: IT, work cultures and
class citizens. Until prisoners are provided with some form of a ‘voice’ to
address issues of concern, little progress will be made.
There was a belief that the right to vote confers dignity, humanity
and promotes inclusion. Issues raised by interviewees included the social
contract, collateral consequences of punishment, civil death and penalpolicy, often mentioned in the debates on prisoner enfranchisement.
Reintegration and maintaining connections with the outside world was
Enfranchisement – the prisoner as citizen
a prominent theme running through the
McLanahan observed that ‘the high level of
incarceration among unmarried fathers (in the USA)’ was ‘particularly striking’
and that ‘changes in penalpolicy which occurred after the 1980’s’ had ‘played an
important role’ in the lives of fathers (2006:11). The following quote by McLanahan
offered a candid analysis of the logic of the PRWORA (1996) and of the eugenic
undercurrents of American ‘welfare reforms’:
And the plight of poor unmarried fathers was virtually ignored except insofar as they
were the target of child-support enforcement. However conditions began to