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Press Release: HLS Statement on Equality and Human Rights Committee

Press Release: HLS welcomes the recommendation from the Equality and Human Rights Committee that Scotland's ban on prisoner voting should be removed in its entirety

Howard League Scotland welcomes today’s report from the Equality and Human Rights Committee that calls for all people in prison to be given the right to vote. The Committee state that given the importance of rehabilitation, human rights, and democracy, 'Scotland should aim for a higher standard than recently established at UK level and should therefore legislate to remove the ban on prisoner voting in its entirety’

Howard League Scotland has consistently campaigned against the blanket ban on prisoner voting and we are delighted to see cross party support for change. We hope the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament will give this report the positive and thoughtful consideration it deserves.

Extending the vote to prisoners is not simply about criminal justice, penal reform or rehabilitation. This is about human rights, creating a universal franchise for all adults in Scotland, and ensuring democratic rights for all citizens. The existence of a universal franchise is an important measure of the strength of our democracy and social equality. Using that measure, Scotland’s democracy currently falls short. Of the 47 Council of Europe nations, Scotland is an outlier; having restrictions on prisoner voting we are in line only with the rest of the UK, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia. 

Since the devolution of electoral matters to Holyrood in the Scotland Act 2016, however, Scotland has gained the opportunity to be a leader in democratic and penal reform by becoming the first polity in the United Kingdom to extend the franchise to convicted prisoners, who are still being denied the vote across the UK, despite the European Court ruling that this is unlawful. We strongly encourage the Government and Parliament to embrace today’s report. By extending the vote to all prisoners, the Scottish Parliament can send a clear signal about its commitment to justice and fairness, and Scotland will make a bold statement on the international stage about the inclusive and democratic character of our society. 

 

ENDS

For further details contact: Louise@HowardLeague.Scot

About Howard League Scotland (HLS): Founded in 1979, HLS campaigns for penal reform in Scotland and promotes just responses to the causes and consequences of crime. HLS accepts no funding from central or local government so that we can campaign freely on key issues. HLS is a highly respected organisation and has been influential in changing government policy in Scotland. 

 

 

 

 

Committee Recommends ban on prisoner voting should be removed in its entirety

HLS welcomes the recommendation from the Equality and Human Rights Committee that Scotland's ban on prisoner voting should be removed in its entirety

Howard League Scotland welcomes today’s report from the Equality and Human Rights Committee that calls for all people in prison to be given the right to vote. The Committee state that given the importance of rehabilitation, human rights, and democracy, 'Scotland should aim for a higher standard than recently established at UK level and should therefore legislate to remove the ban on prisoner voting in its entirety

Howard League Scotland has consistently campaigned against the blanket ban on prisoner voting and we are delighted to see cross party support for change. We hope the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament will give this report the positive and thoughtful consideration it deserves.

Extending the vote to prisoners is not simply about criminal justice, penal reform or rehabilitation. This is about human rights, creating a universal franchise for all adults in Scotland, and ensuring democratic rights for all citizens. The existence of a universal franchise is an important measure of the strength of our democracy and social equality. Using that measure, Scotland’s democracy currently falls short. Of the 47 Council of Europe nations, Scotland is an outlier; having restrictions on prisoner voting we are in line only with the rest of the UK, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia. 

Since the devolution of electoral matters to Holyrood in the Scotland Act 2016, however, Scotland has gained the opportunity to be a leader in democratic and penal reform by becoming the first polity in the United Kingdom to extend the franchise to convicted prisoners, who are still being denied the vote across the UK, despite the European Court ruling that this is unlawful. We strongly encourage the Government and Parliament to embrace today’s report. By extending the vote to all prisoners, the Scottish Parliament can send a clear signal about its commitment to justice and fairness, and Scotland will make a bold statement on the international stage about the inclusive and democratic character of our society. 

 

ENDS

For further details contact: Louise@HowardLeague.Scot

About Howard League Scotland (HLS): Founded in 1979, HLS campaigns for penal reform in Scotland and promotes just responses to the causes and consequences of crime. HLS accepts no funding from central or local government so that we can campaign freely on key issues. HLS is a highly respected organisation and has been influential in changing government policy in Scotland. To support us and the campaign for penal reform in Scotland please consider making a donation here via pay pal.

Call for Trustees

Call for Trustees - closed 
Thank you to everyone who has expressed an interest in becoming a voluntary Trustee with Howard League Scotland. We have received a significant number of applications of a very high quality. If you have not already been in contact with our Secretary, please note that we have closed the call for Trustees for the time being to give us time to consider the applications received so far. We will provide a further update on our recruitment shortly.

 

Trustees: Howard League Scotland

It is extremely rewarding to be a Trustee of Howard League Scotland, where there is the real potential to make a difference to the way that penal policy develops in Scotland. Please consider joining us, we are looking for a broad range of skills. Howard League Scotland (HLS) campaigns for penal reforms, prisoners’ rights and improvements to the Scottish criminal justice system. We are seeking to appoint several new trustees to ensure we have the capacity and skills to continue our effective work for penal reform, and to ensure the good governance of the charity.

This is a voluntary position, HLS Trustees are not paid for their work, although all reasonable travel expenses will be met.

Trustees are expected to attend four board meetings per year and an Away Day, and also on occasion to work with the Policy and Public Affairs Manager on penal policy issues between meetings. Board meetings are currently held in central Edinburgh between 6 and 8 pm, although we are open to discussion about suitable dates, times and location.

Trustees are elected annually or may be co-opted by current trustees at any time.

About HLS

The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland (HLS) promotes just responses to the causes and consequences of crime. It aims to be a forum to stimulate new and progressive thinking in penal practice and to critically question prevailing penal initiatives, based on evidence of ‘what works’ and careful ethical reflection on ‘what’s right’.  HLS accepts no funding from central or local government so that we can campaign freely on key issues. HLS is a highly respected organisation and has been influential in changing government policy (for example in relation to women’s prisons). We are frequently invited to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament and to comment in the media. You can find out more on our website: www.howardleague.scot

 

About the role 

We are seeking to recruit a number of trustees with the following skills and experience. We do not expect every Trustee to meet all of the criteria, but aim to have a balanced Board that in combination has the following skills and experience:

 

·      Commitment to the objectives of HLS (Essential) 

·      Willingness to fulfil the duties and meet the standards of conduct required of a Scottish charity trustee (Essential)

·      Understanding of penal policy and prisons issues

·      Fundraising 

·      Policy analysis and influencing

·      Lobbying policymakers and/or business and/or representative groups.

·      Media and communications or PR, including social media.

·      Strategic planning skills

·      Management / project management

·      Ability to understand and interrogate financial reports

This is an excellent opportunity to make a positive contribution to policy developments in the Scottish criminal justice system and to build your skills and experience in governance and board membership. 

How to apply

Please send an email explaining why you wish to be considered for the role and the relevant skills and experience that you have to: Dinah Aitken, Secretary, HLS   dinah.aitken@btopenworld.com

Short-listed applicants will be invited to an informal interview on a date to be agreed to find out more about HLS and meet some of the trustees.

Achieving Social Justice in 2018: Prisoner Voting Rights

The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts.

  • South African Constitutional Court rules on prisoners' right to vote (1999)

 

Howard League Scotland calls on the government to take this occasion of newly devolved powers to extend the franchise to all prisoners. The issue of prisoners voting should be central to the Electoral Reform Consultation. Extending the vote to prisoners is not primarily about criminal justice, penal reform or rehabilitation. This is about human rights, creating universal franchise in Scotland, and ensuring democratic rights for all citizens. Ultimately, this is about improving the health of our democracy and building a better Scotland.

The centenary of women’s right to vote has been a powerful and timely reminder that citizenship is not automatic, even in democratic societies. We are reminded also that when people are reduced to second class citizenship, and thus socially excluded, it is all too often the result of government policy and legislation. Democracy is about inclusion, political engagement and civic participation. When we disenfranchise specific groups of people, however, we curtail their citizenship and socially marginalise them, but we also degrade the quality of the democracy across our entire society. 

In terms of measuring the strength of our democracy and social equality, universal franchise is seen as an important proxy. Using that measure, Scotland’s democracy is worryingly limited. Of the 47 Council of Europe nations, Scotland is an outlier; having restrictions on prisoner voting we are in line only with Westminster, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia. 

There is also something particularly punitive and arbitrary about denying prisoners the right to vote as opposed to all people with a conviction. This is most likely due to the belief that prison is for the most heinous criminals, but we know in fact large numbers of prisoners are not sentenced for serious or violent offences. In 2011-12, 28 per cent of shoplifting convictions, 54 per cent of housebreaking convictions, and 61 per cent of convictions for serious assault and attempted murder ended in a custodial sentence (Source: Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2011-12). There is not a straightforward divide between the types of offences that attract imprisonment and those that do not. Therefore, HLS advocate that a custodial sentence by itself sets too low and arbitrary a threshold for the loss of such an important right as the right to vote.

Imprisonment is intended as the deprivation of liberty but in contemporary Scotland it also causes “civic death”, an archaic nineteenth century penal idea that should be resigned to history. Civic death was intended to strip a person not just of their freedom, but of many other basic rights, reducing them to a ‘non-person’. This sits at odds with the Scottish political commitment to reintegration and social justice.

Instead, by expanding the franchise the prison can be used to inculcate and encourage civic identity. This is particularly important given that the current voting ban also disproportionately impacts the most deprived and vulnerable. Prisoners tend to be the most marginalized members of our communities and by denying them a vote further ostracizes them from mainstream society. Strengthening people’s connection to society and motivating their sense of wider civic responsibility is an important aim of democracy, one that can be supported by giving prisoners the vote.

Since the devolution of electoral matters to Holyrood in the Scotland Act 2016, however, Scotland has gained the opportunity to be a leader and become the first polity in the United Kingdom to extend the franchise to convicted prisoners. England and Wales continue to deny prisoners the right to vote, despite the European Court ruling that it is unlawful. By extending the vote to all prisoners, the Scottish government can buck this trend, sending the clearest signal yet about its commitment to justice, fairness and inclusion.

HLS believes that the franchise is too limited in Scotland and calls on the Scottish government to remove this uncivilised and anti-democratic ban. Following the Irish model, voting should be extended to all prisoners, regardless of crime and sentence length and using a postal vote system. Prisons are public institutions, their character reflects the political and social values of society at large. However, from civil rights to eliminating the death penalty, history has shown us that governments can shape and encourage progressive public opinion by showing leadership on even the most divisive issues. By giving voting rights to prisoners, Scotland will make a bold statement on the international stage about the democratic character of our society. Prisoner voting is not a criminal justice matter, it is an electoral issue: in its current form it exposes a serious inequality that currently undermines Scottish democracy.

 

 

 

Scottish Prisons in Comparative Perspective

The Council of Europe today published their Annual Penal Statistics – Survey 2016. The report reflects detailed information from 47 of the 52 prison administrations across the Council of Europe. This has revealed a slight increase in the total size of the prison population across these jurisdictions, rising by 1%, the Council of Europe average prisoner population is 117 prisoners per 100,000 people. This report is also important because it allows us to see where Scotland sits in relation to penal trends in other countries.

Matters we should be worried about include the revelation that Scottish prisons have the highest mortality rates within the UK. They are slightly higher than England and Wales and more than double the rate of deaths recorded in Northern Irish prisons.

For every 100,000 inhabitants in Scotland there are 584.3 entries to a prison. This is extraordinarily high. The rate of entry in England and Wales is only 197.3 per 100,000 of the population. This puts us far beyond the European entry rate average of 167.3 people, giving Scotland the third highest entry rate of the 47 nations surveyed in the Council of Europe report. The entry rate does not reflect the number of individuals received into prison, but the total number of times someone enters a prison. So this can include the same individual receiving more than prison sentence in a year. This suggests that more people are being churned through the prison system more often than almost any other country.

Scotland releases people at a slower rate than the European average. In 2015, 31,300 people entered Scottish prisons and 16,700 people were released. This means Scotland has a turnover ratio of 42.6. This is below the European average of 52.3 and places us in the group of countries with the lowest turnover ratios. The Council of Europe warns that low turnover rates are potentially an indicator of future overcrowding.

Within the UK Scotland was recorded as having the highest percentage of females in the prison population (Scotland: 5.2%; England and Wales: 4.5%; Northern Ireland: 3.6%)

There was an average of 1494 people imprisoned as pre-trial detainees

Other important figures include:

The rate of releases per 100,000 people in national population was 311.8, which was far above the average of 135.1

Scotland is recorded as having one of the shortest average sentences at 2.9 months, this is below the European average of 9.8. Short sentences can help keep prisoner numbers low, but it can also be an indicator that prison is not being used a measure of last resort. However, since the presumption against short sentences was introduced in Scotland this figure is likley to have risen.

Scotland has a lower than average prisoner suicide rate, with 8.3% of deaths in Scottish prisons recorded as suicide.

Since the figures were collated Scotland’s prison population has dropped from 142 per 100,000 to 139. While this is welcome, the change is likely due to drop in the number of people being proceeded against by the courts rather than reflecting a change in prison policy. To make this change permanent and continuous requires policies that address Scottish punitive sentencing trends, cautious parole practices and long-term prisoner legislation.

Read more: SPACE I: Annual Penal Statistics in Europe for 2016

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