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Justice Paul Heath stated “most fundamental aspect of a democracy…the right of all citizens to elect those who will govern on their behalf.” Taking away the right to vote is contrary to the function of a democracy. As Heath mentioned all citizens have the right to elect who represents them in court. Justice Earl Warren wrote in the ‘1958 case Trop v. Dulles’ “Citizenship is not a right that expires upon misbehavior.” Depriving prisoners of their right to vote sends the message that they are temporarily not a citizen therefore dehumanizing prisoners. If prisoners remain as citizens while serving their sentences then they should also enjoy the basic civil rights, including being able to cast their votes.
The law taking away prisoners’ voting rights is inconsistent. Dr. Susan Easton mentioned in “Electing the Electorate” from Modern Law Review, the law is disproportionate to your crime. Whether you pick-pocketed or murdered multiple times, that aspect of your punishment is the same. That is only if you get the punishment though. The law is also arbitrary, you are only going to be affected by it if you happen to be serving your sentence during general or local election years. This means some prisoners who have committed the same crimes get unequal punishments. For example, a pickpocketer with a short prison sentence happens to be incarcerated a week before election day, therefore they do not get to vote. Whereas a prisoner who attempted murder gets imprisoned between election year would still get to vote.
Prison assaults and self-harm is another issue that is not talked enough about. In England and Wales, the number of suicides among prisoners has doubled since 2013. Peter Dawson, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The message from these deeply alarming numbers could not be any clearer. An overcrowded prison system cannot cope with the number of people it is expected to hold.” People in prison are at higher risk of self-harm and suicide than the general public. It is also five times more likely for prisoners to be suffering from a mental illness or disorder.
In a 2011 ruling that held overcrowded California prisons in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that an inmate “needlessly dies every six or seven days” in California alone. New Zealand’s prisons may be a bit less severe than America’s but there are still many different issues. Accommodation for prisoners is hard to come by both in an after prison. Over-crowding in prisons has caused beds to be premium and resources to be stretched which increases the risk of riots.
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