prisoner voting

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.

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.

 

 

 

Prisoner Voting

That Scotland denied prisoners the right to vote during the independence referendum undermined the fabric of our democracy and the principle of universal suffrage. In this essay Albie Sachs and HLS President Andrew Coyle review the current ban on prisoner voting in Scotland, England and Wales. How can the Scottish Government make real its social justice mantra when it denied such a large population a right to be counted as a member of a democratic Scottish society during the independence referendum?

Read the essay here: The Right to Vote | Scottish Justice Matters | Vol 3 | Number 1 | March 2015

Scottish Prisoner Voting Arrangements

Howard League Scotland was disappointed that the overwhelming majority of MSPs chose to apply a blanket ban on voting for convicted prisoners in the forthcoming independence referendum. However, there are nonetheless a number of prisoners who will be entitled to vote: those held on remand, civil prisoners and those imprisoned for defaulting on the payment of fines, as well as prisoners who are likely to be released just prior to the referendum date.

Last month, we wrote to the Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service to ask what arrangements they intend to put in place to assist these individuals. We identified three distinct groups who will have the right to vote on 18 September, but who will not be able do so unless steps are taken to assist them, namely:

  • those on remand, who can vote by post or proxy;
  • those who are in prison before the vote, but who are expected to be released in time, but who may not yet be registered to vote; and
  • young people who have never been registered, particularly 16 and 17 year olds,  who will either be on remand or released in time to vote.

We wrote to seek an assurance that the Scottish Prison Service, in partnership with the electoral authorities where necessary, is now taking steps to ensure that all these groups are receiving the assistance they will need in order to be able to vote on 18 September, and an outline of the action which is planned.  We understand that voters will be able to register until 2 September and that the deadline for applications for postal or proxy votes is 3 September. 

We received a response from the Director of Strategy and Innovation on 17 June. We were very encouraged to hear that work is underway by the Scottish Prison Service, in partnership with the Electoral Commission, to prepare guidance for the referendum and to ensure that those in prison who are entitled to vote and those likely to be released in time to vote in the referendum will be given information to enable them to exercise that right. We are also very encouraged to note that this issue has been discussed at recent meetings of the electoral authorities.

It is important that those currently in prison who will be entitled to vote are given appropriate information and assistance to do so. We welcome the efforts made by the Scottish Prison Service and the Electoral Commission to make this provision.

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