THE Welsh Government has unveiled plans to allow prisoners and young people normally resident in Wales who are in custody in the UK, serving a custodial sentence of less than four years, to vote in local government elections in Wales.
Local Government Minister, Julie James, has published details of amendments to the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, which is currently making its way through the Senedd, to allow the changes to take place.
The amendments to the Bill will see an approximately 1,900 adult prisoners and 20 young people in custody being able to vote at the next ordinary local government elections (across all principal and community councils) to be held in May 2022.
Local Government Minister, Julie James said:
“The principle of giving at least some prisoners the vote was supported in consultations undertaken by Senedd Cymru and the Welsh Government. A committee of the Senedd recommended prisoners and young people in custody serving sentences of less than four years should be enfranchised.
“Respondents to the consultations cited the human rights and citizenship of prisoners, alongside the rehabilitation benefits of enfranchisement, as reasons why the vote should be extended.
“However, we are not extending the right to vote to all prisoners and young people in custody. I believe our policy strikes the right balance between sending strong and positive messages to prisoners that they continue to have a stake in society and acknowledging the nature, gravity and circumstances of the offending. The sentence threshold of four years means that the most serious offenders will not be enfranchised.”
Eligible prisoners would register to vote on the basis of an address in Wales, with which they have a connection; this might be their family home, their previous residence or, if homeless, an address with which they can demonstrate a connection.
No prisoners would be able to register to vote using the address of the prison itself. Prisoners from England or elsewhere in prisons in Wales would not be able to register to vote in Welsh local government elections unless they could demonstrate a connection with another address in Wales.
Prisoners would be able to vote by post or by proxy only – there would be no polling stations in prisons.
If prisoners decide to exercise their right to vote, they will need access to candidates, election literature and Welsh media in order to identify the issues and to make informed choices. In line with the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, the Welsh Government will seek to reach agreement with the UK Government to enable prisoners from Wales across the prison estate to access relevant information and minimise possible barriers to registering and casting their vote.
The Bill will also enfranchise foreign citizens who are legally resident in Wales; any prisoners who meet these criteria would be enfranchised.
In advance of the devolution of powers over elections to the National Assembly for Wales in 2018, the Welsh Government consulted on electoral reform in the summer of 2017.
50% of respondents supported the proposal of giving prisoners the right to vote, compared 48% opposing with 2% not expressing a view.
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