Prisoners in the UK are denied the vote, a fact I’m somewhat embarrassed not to have realised before this weekend. Obviously I should grit my teeth and read the [Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/sep/19/prisonsandprobation.civilliberties) and the [Independent](http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/prisoners-should-be-given-the-vote-1601103.html) more often.
I had heard about it in the US, where it’s a bigger issue. There the numbers are larger, the rules are tighter (in some states ex-cons are also covered). And dubious implementation of the law — let alone the law itself — have been [claimed](http://www.gregpalast.com/the-great-florida-ex-con-gamernhow-the-felon-voter-purge-was-itself-felonious/) as deciding the 2000 presidential election. But in the UK, it just bubbles along a little way below the headlines.
Most of the pressure to change the situation comes from outside. Prisoners have been trying to use human rights legislation in order to vote, most recently [Peter Chester](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6408023/Child-murderers-voting-ban-infringes-his-human-rights.html). He is kept in jail not because of his original crime (he’s already served 20 years for that), but because he is considered a danger to the public.
Four years earlier another prisoner, [John Hirst](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4315348.stm), won a case in the European Court of Human Rights, demanding his right to vote.
I’m not sure of the legal implications of that ruling. The government certainly didn’t jump to change the law. There is now a [consultation](http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/prisoners-voting-rights.htm) in progress, which I suppose is the most time-consuming way of doing nothing.
Apart from the moral case, John Hirst puts the practical argument pretty nicely:
“When you’re a prisoner, the only thing you can do if you want to complain and no-one listens, is riot and lift the roof off”