PRISONERS in Wales should be given the right to vote, a cross-party committee of AMs has said.n to reach new record highs. PRESS ASSOCIA

Last year the Welsh Assembly's Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - which is chaired by Newport East AM John Griffiths - launched an inquiry into whether prison inmates should be allowed to vote in devolved elections.

In the UK all people serving prison sentences are banned from voting in any election. But in 2005 the European Court of Human Rights ruled this was in breach of international human rights law.

And now the cross-party committee has released its report, recommending prisoners serving sentences of less than four years should be allowed to vote and that, if plans by the Welsh Government to give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote are signed off, this should apply to prisoners too.


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But the recommendations proved divisive - with Conservative committee members Mohammad Asghar and Mark Isherwood refusing to back them - with Mr Isherwood saying in a statement the plan "flies in the face of natural justice, not just for victims, but society as a whole".

And polls have shown public opinion is largely against the idea. A YouGov survey of people in Wales and the Midlands carried out in 2017 found 60 per cent of people did not believe prisoners should be given the vote - although this was down from 73 per cent two years earlier.

The committee took evidence from a number of relevant organisations during its inquiry and found, the report says, "it is clear that opinion is, at the very best, divided".

Among them was Victims Commissioner for England and Wales Baroness Newlove, who 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.”

But a representative of Safer Wales, a charity representing the interests of "invisible" people in society, said: “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.”

In his introduction to the report Mr Griffiths said the committee had "sought to find an acceptable way forward".

South Wales Argus:

John Griffiths

"No doubt many will believe that giving even one more prisoner the vote is a step too far," he said. "Whilst those who support full enfranchisement will be disappointed we have not been bolder.

"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."

But Mr Isherwood

In response to the report Mr Isherwood said the proposal "flies in the face of natural justice, not just for victims, but society as a whole".

"Being imprisoned means the restriction of liberty, and people believe this means giving up the vote until their release," he said.

The changes would only apply to Welsh Assembly and local government elections in Wales.

Wales has the highest imprisonment rate of all countries in western Europe, with 4,074 Welsh people - about 0.13 per cent of the country's population - in jail. But 37 per cent of these are held in English prisons, partially because all five prisons in Wales are men-only.

The report has been submitted to the Welsh Government for consideration.