Weight of evidence in favour of prisoner voting rights

Prisoners in Wales should have the right to vote, according to the weight of evidence collected by the National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

The majority of the Committee backed a recommendation for inmates serving less than four years to have the right to vote in devolved Welsh elections. However, the recommendation was opposed by two members.

A similar recommendation for 16-17-year-olds in custody to have the right to vote, if the voting age is lowered in Wales, was also supported by a majority with two committee members against.

 

“Prisoner voting is an emotive issue. There are strong views for and against and we have strived to ensure all sides are heard and carefully considered,” said John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

“In reaching a compromise we have sought to find an acceptable way forward. No doubt many will believe that giving even one more prisoner the vote is a step too far; whilst those who support full enfranchisement will be disappointed we have not been more bold.

“In recommending the vote for those sentenced to less than four years we have recognised the evidence to our inquiry, public opinion and the different views of committee members.”

The Committee took evidence from people and organisations from all sides of the debate, including visiting prisons in Wales and England to talk to inmates and staff about their views.

Among the views received were very different opinions from Safer Wales and the Victims Commissioner for England and Wales.

 

Safer Wales told the Committee:

“Imprisonment is a loss of liberty and not a loss of a person’s citizenship.

“Safer Wales considers that, if we as a nation place a high value on equality and inclusivity, including the active participation of citizens, then indiscriminately disenfranchising a group of citizens who are in prison at a given time undermines these very principles we value.”

 

Baroness Newlove, the Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, told the Committee:

“I do not support the notion that any serving prisoner should be given the vote.

“Someone is sent to prison as a punishment for breaking the law, and that is very important for victims to hear that, those directions in court, and to follow through.

“Because, for them, prison means that, for a fixed period of time, you are deprived of the right to live in a society as a free citizen, and therefore that ought to include the right to participate in elections.”

 

The Committee makes 11 recommendations in its report, including:

  • that the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales Commission introduce legislation to give all those Welsh prisoners who are serving custodial sentences of less than four years the right to vote in devolved Welsh elections. Mohammad Asghar and Mark Isherwood do not agree with this recommendation;
  • that both the Welsh Government and the Assembly Commission commit to ensuring that any relevant legislation changing the franchise is in place at least six months before any election which is due to occur; and,
  • that the Welsh Government and Electoral Commission pursue a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK Government and Prison Service to ensure that all eligible prisoners are registered to vote and are supported to take part in any elections for which they are eligible.

The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government, Assembly Members and the National Assembly for Wales Commission.

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Nathan Spackman

Nathan is the Operations Director and one half of Vale Breakfast on Bro Radio. You'll hear him reading local news, hosting at local events and presenting our facebook live videos.