TO celebrate the Year of Young People, every week in 2018 The National is giving a platform to young Scots. This week, 24-year-old Amie Robertson of Ballots Behind Bars

MY education in Scotland’s prison system started at age 13. This is when my brother was sent to prison. This is when I realised those processed by the prison system are seen as less than human. This is when I began to experience the prison system and its inherent problems.

There is a narrative of hate I had to face at too young an age: “Lock them up and throw away the key”, “Get the scum off our streets”. “Hang them” was even pleasantly suggested to me on the bus to work.

What are the effects of seeing prisoners as less than human? A society where 66% of those affected by family imprisonment are more likely to experience severe mental illness and a country with one of the highest reoffending rates in Europe.

Regarding a category of persons as non-citizens has a very real impact on their life outcomes. It allows employers to feel like these are not people deserving of jobs. It allows governments to avoid looking seriously into providing mental health care to address a severe need, and ultimately leads to a life beyond the prison gates where people are forever defined by their crime and not their humanity. Do we really think this creates a safer society?

In a democratic society, voting rights are about so much more than simply casting a ballot. Throughout history the right to vote has been won as a recognition of people’s humanity. It is a confirmation that people are citizens. That’s what we are fighting for.

The campaign for prisoners’ voting rights is about changing our attitude towards those in prison. Moving beyond the tabloid narrative of criminals and thugs, towards a realistic consideration of the reasons why our prisons are disproportionately populated by those from the most deprived postcodes in Scotland. It is about recognising The Prison Reform Trust estimates that mental illness affects nearly 90% of those behind bars, locked in a cell for anything from 18-23 hours a day. Do we think this will rehabilitate?

We have tried to decide what those in prison need for decades. Ballots Behind Bars want to put the power of self-determination back to those in prison themselves to contribute to the conversation on criminal justice and build a greater sense of responsibility for their communities. Until recently, Britain was one of only five countries across Europe to still have a blanket ban on prisoners voting. Should we ignore overwhelming international evidence of the benefits this has on society?

We are a grassroots campaign for prisoner voting rights in Scotland. A diverse group who long for a better justice system. We set up in response to the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and Human Rights Committee recommending that all prisoners are enfranchised. We want to generate a nationwide conversation on this issue, take action towards winning the vote for prisoners and, in doing so, create a safer, more democratic and healing society for us all.

Scotland is on the move to fight for a better justice system.

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