Saturday, February 19, 2011

Representation and Taxes

Are prisoners members of society or not? Because, as a lifelong smoker, I've been paying taxes at the rate of 80% all of my adult life. But I'm denied any opportunity to voice my electoral opinion as to how these taxes should be directed.
Wasn't there a revolution over a similar point in the Colonies? Perhaps I should declare secession? "We, the Prisoners..."


  1. It's an interesting question, and one I am still unsure about. My thinking up to this point has been that if one is convicted and imprisoned as a result of their actions they have therefore forfeited the right to have a say in the manner in which the Government conducts its business. The choice was made to commit the crime, and implicit in that is the understanding that certain rights will be removed if found guilty.

    If it were the case that prisoners were allowed to vote in referenda or general elections, the combined weight of the prison population could (I imagine) easily swing votes in constituencies or even natinowide.

    The tax on things such as cigarettes help to contribute towards the NHS and its costs of future healthcare when those who have lung cancer need thousands of pounds' worth of treatment to prolong their lives.

    I think on balance, I'm still happy with prisoners not having the vote, but this is from the perspective of someone who's never been imprisoned. If one chooses to smoke, one accepts the price, taxes included. One is not taxed exclusively because one is an inmate, and it costs the UK a lot per prisoner - Civitas reports that the average cost of a prison place in 2002 was £38,753 per annum.

    If prisoners paid no taxes, the burden of running the system would simply increase the cost of living for every other law abiding, tax paying citizen. Taxation currently accounts for more than 60% of my income (which is a proportionately high amount).

    So on balance, I think I am happy with prisoners being taxed to help subsidise aspects of the healthcare system (or the prison system itself) they are entitled to as part of their incarceration. However, I'm not entrenched in this viewpoint.

    Are there valid arguments aside from "it's my tax money they're using" for why prisoners should be exempted from tax and duty? (genuinely interested in hearing a prisoner's viewpoints.)

  2. Are prisoners members of society or not? Technically they are, but they are also being punished for comitting a crime. This punishment involes the removal of some, though not all, human rights.

    Infact, having the means to gain a degree and study towards a PHD mean that some rights are actually enhanced.

    You can argue that some crimes do not deserve a prison sentence, but some do. Taking the life of another human being is one that deserves the removal of certain human rights and it could be argued that these rights should be removed for the rest of the such persons life.

    How do you deal with somebody who takes the life of another? I think that this is a much bigger question than 'should smokers who pay for their cigarettes be allowed to vote if they are on prison because they stole a life?'

    So are prisoners members of society? I guess it depends what crime has been commited.

  3. Anonymous,

    Ben was not given the means to study by the state, just the uninterrupted time in which to do it. Funding has come from various donors, including many who read this blog.


    Prisoners votes would be in the place where they lived before imprisonment to ensure there was not a block voting effect. It is unlikely they would make any difference at all. Even if they did, most of them will be lobbying for the sorts of improvements in their lives that help rehabilitation and reduce the numbers of future victims - wouldn't it be a good thing if MPs had a voters like that to pander to to offset the "hang'em" fraternity that hold so much sway?

    Anyhow, the ECHR has decided they (some of them, the exact numbers are up to our Government) should be allowed to vote and as we now have the choice of obliging, or withdrawing from the ECHR - an act of petty spite that would make us a global laughing stock and is just plain wrong - we should do what we have to do and shut up about it.

    We are the only country in Europe who do not already allow some of our prisoners to vote - even Zimbabwe does. Doesn't that set alarm bells ringing that maybe, just maybe, we are in the wrong on this one?

  4. I think all prisoners should have the vote, but this us particularly so for those lifers past their tariff. My understanding us that they are not incarcerated as punishment for their crime, as that portion of their sentence is over; they are (theoretically) only being held until they are no longer deemed a threat to the public. If they aren't being punished, how can anybody possibly justify withholding the vote?

  5. Personally, i am not bothered one way or another if prisoners vote or not. But i do like the way it upset the apple-cart, re the EU. I don't smoke, but i am sick of us paying A£500m a day to the EU, and we are all having cutbacks in NHS, Education, etc.

  6. @Anon 10:50am-we don't pay £180 billion a year to the EU. The net cost is less than 1/3rd of that. So stop alarmism. Secondly, it has nothing to do with the EU. The Council of Europe deals with human rights. A coucil whose assembly includes 18 members of our parliament, and whose committee includes British Foreign and Justice Ministers.

    As for the voting issue, the state largely decides who goes to jail, especially for those sent from the magistrates court (and therefore not heard before a jury). By denying prisoners, especially those on short sentences, the vote, we give the state a mechanism to determine who votes or not. Whilst this has not been abused so far, I would be keen to make sure it can't be abused in the future.

  7. @Tallguy so what is the gross cost not the net? £60 billion is bad enough.

  8. Intellectual arguments aside, prisoners are Human Beings,and as such should be afforded all of their Human Rights, including the right to vote.
    We cannot pick and choose which Human Rights.
    As for being a citizen, of course prisoners are part of society, loss of liberty is the punishment prison dishes out, not chipping away at more and more of their rights.

  9. As far as I can make out loss of liberty and loss of rights is the same thing. It's just about debating what rights should remain and what rights should be taken away. The more liberty afforded to prisoners means the less of a punishment prison becomes.

    The justice system needs a major overhaul, that is obvious. Some crimes deserve to be punished harshly, others not so harshly. But who has the right to decide which crime is worst than the next?

    Prisoners are human beings, but so are those who have been adversely affected by their crimes.

    Prison as a punishment does not work, prison as a form of rehabilitation does not work. Prison just does not work. But when people do wrong there needs to be a way to redress the balance.

  10. Anonymous, Surely the gross cost is irrelevant? It's a bigger number, sure, but it fails to take into account the money that comes back the other way, so using it is, as Tallguy said, alarmism pure and simple.

    The estimated cost of the Iraq war to date has been £1890 billion, trident costs £104 billion and Tesco's annual revenue is £59 billion. In the context of those numbers, £60 billion to Europe doesn't seem such a big deal. I know which one I'd prefer to keep out of EU membership or the Iraq war!

  11. Anonymous @11.43

    Loss of liberty and loss of rights are not the same thing. It used to be the case that prisoners in the UK were sentenced to various forms of pointless hard labour designed purely as punishments but, around the mid 1800s a series of important court cases decided that the punishment should be loss of liberty only and that all other human rights should stand unaffected (of course, this was before the human rights act, so it wasn't phrased quite like that). The various staple exhibits of prison museums around the country (like cockchafers) disappeared from use and prisoners began to be guaranteed a minimum standard of meagre accommodation.

    Since then, the issue has been revisited a few times as society has changed, mostly to designate this or that a human right or not and rule it in or out of what prisoners are allowed. Recent additions include television for example.

    You may not agree that the punishment should be loss of liberty only, but it has been discussed for decades in the past by wise heads who debated and studied the issue in great depth and from all angles. That is the way it is and has been for nearly 200 years now. The laws are good laws and the chances of them being overturned are as near to zero as makes no difference.

  12. I am the anon of 10.50. In fact that was a typo error, as i should have put A£50M. I am happy to stand corrected, in fact i am going to google in a moment why we are in the EU, as it just doesn't make sense to me.

    As an ex-con, i found prison really easy, 3 meals a day, no bills, and some of the time, a laugh. But my experiance if different to Ben's in many ways, i only did a short sentence, and my crime was very different, plus other factors. HOWEVER, It is not prison that is the problem, it is all the crap that goes with it. Ie, i had to move out of my home, i lost my job, got into debt etc, and out the other end, it does take a while to get on your feet again. A criminal record is always a stigma in the job market, it was a problem for me to get insurance, etc. Oh and the stress of the court case, that was forever being ajourned, wasn't fun either. Plus the stress on my family.All this is the punishment in my eyes. Not the prison itself.

    I think Ben is deluded in thinking it will be so easy when he get's out. And if i were in his shoes, i'd be campaigning for more bail hostel places etc, rather than worry about if i got to vote or not.

  13. Anon @11.25, you make some good points. I know of some people (drug addiction being an issue) that get themselves arrested and get back inside as a break from their chaotic lifestyle when it all gets too much, bizarre as that may sound to some. Once on this merry-go-round it becomes almost impossible to live on the outside with no job, family support etc. Lack of appropriate housing is a major issue in re-offending. Shouldn't this be all the more reason for people who have experienced these issues first hand to have a voice, e.g. a vote? Also sadly it is largely still a class issue. Cameron seems disdainful of prisoners whatever their circumstances, and doesn't seem to think any of them either worthy or capable of having a valid opinion on anything. I wonder if the recently jailed MPs will learn lessons from their conversations inside, and come out with some positive ideas for reform?

  14. Whatever are Ben's personal circumstances, I believe he and others are right to campaign for prisoners rights to vote, for the reasons that have already been stated many times.

    Prisoners will be, through having a right to vote treated with more dignity. It will also raise their political awareness (which is probably the reason why politicians don't want them to have the vote in the first place, they would probably rather they don't know or care about what's going on).

    Also, we probably would have a different government than the one we have now if prisoners had had the vote for the last general election. It was a hung parliament and the lib dems handed over power to the Tories. If prisoners had had the vote, (which they should have done) they would have made a difference.

    That fact in itself ought to give prisoners a sense of worth, that they can make a difference and their opinions are valued.

  15. oh and add to the above comment that there should also be more bail hostels too x

  16. Of coures he should campaign about the vote if he wishes to. In reality though, you only have to go on to Daily mail or The Sun forums to know that most people think convicts are the scum of the earth.

    The country is in such a state right now, it didn't matter much who got into power last time, there were going to be cutbacks all round, and the average MP, or even Joe Public i guess, will think prisoners rights are way down on the list. I don't say i agree with it, i am just being realistic here.

    I lived in a bail hostel for a while, yes, there should be more of them.

    @jules, have you read the Prison diarys by Jeffery Archer? For some reason, Ben doens't like it, (i forget why) but not only did i find it a good read, i could relate to it, as a straight goer, (as apposed to a career criminal).

  17. There is money in the system anon, Britain was in far more debt after the second world war and yet the NHS was formed, council houses were built.

    Today though there is less debt than before, the proposals are cuts, and decimation of vital services. Its a country for the greedy few not for the needs of the many who actually turn the wheels of society. And the Labour party are bad too, some of the things being done today was started by them, but the Tories are really causing terrible hardship.

    Prisoners could have made a difference had they had the chance last general election, its an obvious point, so they should feel a stake in the votes issue for the future.

    Newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun are really only any good for toilet paper in my view, but I know lots of people who read the trash and might go along with some of the ideas.

    But you can only fool some of the people some of the time, you can't fool all of the people all of the time, there will always be room to maneuver, however small, just being realistic anon.

  18. I would just like to second the Wigarse post @ Anon 11.43,and in fact most of the comments above.
    Prisoners after all, whether you like it or not ARE Citizens of this Country,apart from losing their liberty they should retain all of their rights as a citizen, and as a Human Being.

    Of course giving prisoners the right to vote is the right thing to do, as is encouraging their input into some of these one sided reports which various organisations dish out from time to time.

    As for the mindless masses who fall for all the rubbish in the Media, save us!!

  19. orld English Dictionary
    liberty (ˈlɪbətɪ) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

    — n , pl -ties
    1. the power of choosing, thinking, and acting for oneself; freedom from control or restriction
    2. the right or privilege of access to a particular place; freedom
    3. ( often plural ) a social action regarded as being familiar, forward, or improper
    4. ( often plural ) an action that is unauthorized or unwarranted in the circumstances: he took liberties with the translation
    5. a. authorized leave granted to a sailor
    b. ( as modifier ): liberty man ; liberty boat
    6. at liberty free, unoccupied, or unrestricted
    7. take liberties to be overfamiliar or overpresumptuous (with)
    8. take the liberty to venture or presume (to do something)

    Lots of references to freedom in the dictionary definition of liberty. Human rights and liberty go hand in hand. Loss of liberty is loss of rights. Its the chosen way of dealing with offenders. Wrong as this may be. Prison should only be used for people who are a serious danger to the public in my opinion.

  20. Stop smoking then!

    We want to see you outside, not in a coffin.

  21. Here here, Stop smoking Ben. I try and pay as little tax as poss, (ie, purchase most things 2nd hand on ebay). Wigarse has outlined ways the government waste money, yet don't fund health and education properly, nor mend the roads round here.

    I agree, Daily Mail, The Sun et al are trash, the trouble is, their readers are the type of people selected for jury service.

  22. I think being on the outside would be a huge disappointment to Ben, keep smoking is the only advice I can give... and maybe stop moaning about paying tax until a chunk of your hard earned cash disappears each month. You even have to pay for your own food!

  23. You don't pay 80% taxes on cigarettes. The manufacturers pay the excise taxes on them. You're just paying a higher price as a result.