Justice

The Successes of Devolution: Prisoners’ Voting Rights

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From health care to education, devolution has caused Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to branch away from Westminster and centralised power.

Whether powers are too many or too few is debated at length between nations, but the question up for debate today is to what extent has this devolution brought forth democracy – in particular for the prisoners.

Prisoners make up one of the largest groups of people in Britain who are disenfranchised- just over 92,000 people were incarcerated in 2019. This significant population all face at least 5 years of no representation- even if they were to be released days after a voting period. Not only are sentencing and rehabilitation services funded and created under the government but so are the prison’s conditions.

This blunder in democracy was supported by former Prime Minister David Cameron has saidthat the idea made him ‘physically sick’. To give prisoners a basic human right made him feel that way.

This isn’t to say all prisoners should get the right to vote- this blanket ban has been used as a deterrent for future crimes. But wouldn’t it give the prisoners hope, make them feel part of a better society, wouldn’t it be one of the ultimate forms of rehabilitation? They’re allowed to keep up to date with the news via news channels and newspapers but they are treated as if they aren’t intelligible to have an opinion on such.

Scotland has taken a stand against measures backed by Cameron and has enacted a policy in favour of prisoner’s voting rights. In accordance with the European Court of Justice, they have passed the Franchise and Representation Bill with a super majority. This allows Scottish prisoners to vote in Scottish elections, enfranchising thousands of prisoners (they have a prison population of over 8000), as well as refugees and those granted asylum. This will be fully in action in 2020.

This massive leap in democratic aims is being followed by the Welsh government also enacting the same policy. The devolved states are taking great leaps forward in democratic terms. But why isn’t England following suit?

Well, echoing the Cameron premiership, the Conservative government is unlikely to want this policy in place- for they have been the government that has created tougher policies in prisons as well as overseeing the depletion of the prison workforce. It isn’t a surprise they haven’t complied, they’ve already seen the wrath of the European courts, contempt is nothing new to them.

Overall, despite England’s lack of compliance, the display of success of devolution for democracy is evident. Policies that allow people their basic human rights are democratic.The devolved powers see this as the case and with their newly instated powers have allowed democracy to be brought to the prisons of Scotland and Wales, benefitting both the prisoners’ rehabilitation process and the democracy of elections.

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