Votes for prisoners: tough shadow ministerial soundbites don’t help

by Hannah McFaull

Shadow justice minister, Sadiq Khan MP, has consistently said that the government should be “standing up for the victims of crime” instead of giving the vote to “dangerous convicted prisoners”. This is a false dichotomy, a comment which risks inflaming tension around an already emotive issue.

Research and polling has consistently shown that for the majority of victims of crime, the result they want from the criminal justice process is that no one has to suffer again in the way that they have. On a basic level, before you get into crime prevention, this means stopping reoffending. When you dig even further into the numbers, victims of crime rank rehabilitation and reform of the individual much higher than punishment as priorities for the justice system.

Casting aside other arguments about the need to address the underlying causes of crime, penal reformers are right to say that treating prisoners as citizens has a much higher success rate at reintroduction into society following time inside. Many prisoners come from socially excluded backgrounds and won’t have had the experiences of social responsibility that many people in society have.

This could be paying tax on earnings in prison and understanding why taxation is important. It could be training on how to fill in a job application or buy an Oyster card. Or it could be involvement in the political process through gaining the franchise. The truth is that voting, tax and working are social responsibilities more than they are social rights and getting prisoners involved in this process can only be a positive step.

I am not arguing that all prisoners should definitely have the right to vote. In fact, as a penal reformer there are much more pressing issues on which we should be concentrating.

But comments like those made by Sadiq Khan only serve to confuse what victims actually want – less offending in future – with what is politically viable for a shadow justice minister in opposition.

Issues of rehabilitation, reintegration, crime and punishment are complex and emotive. Here there are issues of delicate European and UK sovereignty at play too. Very little is self-evident in matters such as these. Perhaps the one thing that is, is that sound bites don’t do a great deal to help the debate.

Hannah McFaull blogs here.

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5 Responses to “Votes for prisoners: tough shadow ministerial soundbites don’t help”

  1. Red Bandits says:

    Typical of the gutless Labour Party to the right of the Conservatives on penal policy
    but Labour members not bothered.

  2. Adam says:

    Does Hannah still work for the Howard League for Penal Reform? Better to declare these things openly.

  3. Emma Burnell says:


    Great article. Labour should look again at how we view prison & the balance between punishment & rehabilitation. Not least, because the current system does not seem to be working in terms of reducing reoffending rates.


    I hope so. Having someone so clearly intelligent & passionate working in the field can only be a good thing. Not sure why you’re being snarky about it though. Usually, you only have to declare a financial interest. Are you labouribg under the impression that the Howard League operate a bizarre bonus scheme rewarding pieces written for political websites?

  4. Hannah McFaull says:

    Adam, yes I do still work for the Howard League but I am a Labour Party member writing in a personal capacity and therefore intentionally did not declare it. As a charity, the Howard League is apolitical; as an activist I am not.

  5. Nicki Jameson says:

    Sadiq Khan – yes the same Sadiq Khan who was a partner in human rights law firm Christian Khan and who, quite rightly, complained when Woodhill prison bugged his visits to his imprisoned constituent and old school friend, Babar Ahmed.

    What an unbeliebable hypocite.

    All prisoners should be entitled to vote. However, given that every single major political party is firmly against their rights to vote or do anything else, and make political capital out of attacking them, I wouldn’t blame any prisoner who, if they win the vote, didn’t actually bother to use it or spoiled their ballot paper!

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