6 May 2009

Register to vote before 19th May: but not if you are a prisoner

Gloucestershire Green Party
Are you registered? If not, you don't have long left to register in time to ensure that you can vote in the local and European elections on 4th June 2009. The 19th May registration deadline is fast approaching and Stroud District Council has made a final call for those eligible to vote to ensure they are on the electoral roll. Completed applications for postal votes must also be received by this date. Anyone not registered by 19th May will not be able to vote in the local or European elections.

Registering is particularly important for anyone who has recently moved home - if they do not register at their new address they risk falling off the electoral register. Not signing up could also seriously harm residents financial as well as democratic status. Companies offering credit all refer to the electoral register. Anyone not on it is likely to find their application refused. You won't be automatically registered even if you pay council tax.

* If you are not sure you are registered to vote, call the electoral services team on 01453 754383 or email elections@stroud.gov.uk
* If you haven't already received and returned a registration or postal voting form, call 01453 754 383, email elections@stroud.gov.uk or download one from the council website at www.stroud.gov.uk/voting

Interestingly the ministry of justice has published a consultation on voting rights for prisoners. It sets out several options which could see some prisoners, depending on the length of their sentence, getting the right to vote. Submissions should be sent to the ministry of justice by 29 September.
The government has decided to hold a separate consultation exploring questions relating those detained under mental health legislation.

At the moment only a small number of prisoners currently have the right to vote. The right to vote is basically restricted to the following categories of prisoner:
* Unconvicted prisoners
* Convicted but unsentenced prisoners
* Persons imprisoned for contempt of court and other prisoners classified under Prison Rule 7
* Those serving a term of imprisonment in default of payment of a sum of money, adjudged to be paid on conviction

The vast majority of prisoners held in UK jails or other places of detention in the UK are barred from voting and the UK has a tradition of removing voting rights from prisoners dating back 140 years. The UK is at odds with many other European member states. At present, sixteen European nations permit all prisoners to vote without restriction, including Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Most other countries allow prisoners to vote with some restrictions. Seven other European countries have a total bar, these are: Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg, and Romania.

At last thing slook set to change - the European Court of Human Rights judges found that the UK has been breach of its treaty obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights in applying an absolute bar for all prisoners.

Our prison population has large numbers of people with levels of mental distress far higher than in the general population. In a recent large-scale survey of prisons carried out by the Office of National Statistics in 2005, it was found that over one-third of men serving prison sentences had a significant mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression), nearly one in ten had experienced psychosis and one in four had attempted suicide in prison. Over three-quarters of men on remand and nearly two-thirds of male inmates met the diagnosis of having a personality disorder.

I find it extraordinary that prisoners have been excluded for so long. Let yus hope the changes come soon - it might even make MPs more interested in penal policy, and reducing re-offending?

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