Friday, September 17, 2010

A stark reminder

Today the Law and Order Committee recommended that Paul Quinn's bill to strip all prisoners of the vote be passed. The bill is predicated on the idea that anyone in prison is a "serious offender", and so does not deserve to vote. Its also predicated on the idea that there is a rational connection between the seriousness of the offence and the sentence meted out. Meanwhile, we've just had a stark reminder that that is not always true. Sentencing decisions are significantly influenced by the social class of the accused. And this can lead to unjust outcomes, which will be magnified by this bill.

For an example, we need look no further than David Garrett (who ironically, spoke in favour of the bill at its first reading). He committed a serious crime - passport fraud. But because he was rich and a lawyer, he was discharged without conviction and was granted name suppression to "maintain his reputation". Meanwhile, someone else who committed the same offence was sent to jail for seventeen months.

Under Quinn's bill, one of these people would be allowed to vote, and the other would not. But the decision would have been made primarily on the basis of wealth and class, not severity of offending. Result: poor people lose their votes, while rich people retain them.

That's not just unjust, its discriminatory and undemocratic. But isn't it so very, very National?