Lift the unjust ban on prisoners’ votes

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In a letter to The Guardian signed by Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Peter Smith alongside faith leaders, peers, MPs and those working in penal system, the signatories call on government to lift the “unjust and outdated ban on all sentenced prisoners taking part in our democratic process.”

Full Text

The prisoners voting bill before parliament presents an opportunity to lift the unjust and outdated ban on all sentenced prisoners taking part in our democratic process. While those who have committed crimes may be rightly deprived of their liberty, they never cease to be citizens. The current system of blanket disenfranchisement is a violation of the UK’s obligations under the European convention of human rights, sending a poor message to both people in prison and society as a whole.

The ban undermines efforts to help prisoners reform their lives and take responsibility, by suggesting that their opinions are unwanted and their voices do not count. A large number of people sent to prison have already been marginalised as a result of poverty, poor education, abuse and neglect. Removing their basic democratic voting rights only compounds this harmful exclusion.

Prison governors and officials, chief inspectors, electoral commissioners, legal and constitutional experts, civil society organisations, faith groups and most other European governments recognise that people in prison should not be automatically disenfranchised. We hope that MPs and peers considering the issue will do likewise and take this opportunity to overturn the blanket ban.

Most Rev Peter Smith
Archbishop of Southwark

Rt Rev James Jones
Lord Bishop of Liverpool
Church of England Bishop for Prisons

Lord Woolf
Chair, Prison Reform Trust

Lord Ramsbotham

Peter Bottomley MP

Juliet Lyon Director
Prison Reform Trust

Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty

Frances Crook
Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform

Frank Kantor
General secretary, Free Churches Group

John Scott
Chair, Howard League Scotland

Deborah Coles
Co-director, Inquest

Nuala Mole
Senior lawyer, Aire Centre

Clive Martin
Director, Clinks

Olwen Lyner
CEO, Niacro

Angela Clay
Chair, Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards

Chris Stacey
Director (services), Unlock

Related Links
Our web section on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill
The Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill on