Prisoners Should Get Vote, Say MSPs

14 May 2018, 09:58


Prisoners serving custodial sentences should be given the right to vote, according to Holyrood's equalities and human rights committee.

The committee began considering prisoner voting last September after receiving a letter on the issue from MSP Patrick Harvie.

It has since received a range of evidence about the arguments for and against prisoner voting.

A majority felt that not allowing prisoners to vote did not serve the interests of society, prisoners' rehabilitation or democracy.

It also found the current blanket ban on voting is "arbitrary".

Committee Convener, Christina McKelvie MSP, said: "Prisoner voting is a fundamental issue.

"It strikes to the heart of questions like 'what sort of society do we want to be', 'what is prison for' and 'what are the rights and responsibilities of a citizen'.

"After careful consideration of this issue, we as a cross-party committee have come to a majority view that the current ban should be lifted, and the right to vote be restored to all prisoners.

"We are acutely aware that prison is a place people go to be punished, and that there will be individual cases people find distasteful; but we need to think about rehabilitation, and not further excluding and alienating people from society."

The committee heard the current ban is illogical and someone sentenced to prison in Scotland in June 2014 would have been excluded from voting five times by the end of June 2016.

But a prisoner who had committed a similar offence and received a community sentence, would have been able to vote on all five occasions.

Patrick Harvie MSP, Equalities spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: "The blanket ban which prevents prisoners from voting is very clearly a breach of human rights, so this recommendation from the Equalities and Human Rights Committee is a welcome step.

"My proposal to change the franchise so that prisoners could vote in 2014 was rejected by MSPs from all other parties, so it's a real sign of progress that only Tory MSPs are still clinging to the current outdated and illegal rules.

"Prisons are not places to forget about people, they are places where we should be trying to rehabilitate offenders so that they understand their responsibilities as members of a society to which they will return.

"The ban on prisoners voting doesn't help that and arguably makes it harder."

Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative equalities spokeswoman, added: "There is absolutely no public support for these proposals, and at no time did the committee hear directly from victims of crime on this matter.

"Breaking the law is a serious matter and it is right that criminals are punished accordingly.

"Criminals should know that when they break the law this will be one of the consequences.

"Victims of crime will be horrified that that, yet again, the rights of criminals are being prioritised above the experiences of victims."