1. Executive Summary
Since 2 April 2020, the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020 has allowed prisoners serving sentences of twelve months or less to register and vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections.
As part of a commitment to ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the policy, the Scottish Government alongside partner organisations, including the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the Electoral Commission, agreed to conduct a survey of prisoners eligible to vote in the 2022 Local Government elections.
All eligible prisoners were therefore invited to complete a short voluntary survey which was distributed in May 2022. The survey asked questions on a number of areas including; historical voting habits; whether eligible prisoners had registered to vote from prison; whether they had voted and whether they felt they had sufficient information to exercise their right to vote.
The survey went live in May 2022, shortly after the 2022 Local Government election had concluded and was open for responses until mid-June 2022. At the time the survey was launched, unpublished data received from the SPS demonstrated that there were 526 people in custody, who were over the age of 16 and serving sentences of twelve months or less who would be eligible to vote and therefore participate in the survey.
There were 61 eligible responses to the survey, giving a response rate of 11.6%. Responses were received from 10 establishments.
A summary of key findings is provided below.
Previous voting history
- 56% of respondents stated that they had never voted in a Local Government election before, 24% stated that they sometimes voted and 12% always voted. 8% of respondents stated they had not been eligible to vote at Local Government elections in Scotland before.
Registering to vote from prison
- Respondents were asked whether they had a received a letter inviting them to register to vote in the 2022 Local Government election. 29% of respondents said they had received a letter inviting them to register to vote, 61% said they had not and 10% stated that they were not sure.
- When those who didn't register to vote were asked, 67% said that they did not know they were eligible to register due to their being sentenced to 12 months or less in prison; 11% were not sure and 22% said that they had been aware that they could register to vote.
- When asked whether they felt they had enough information to be able to register to vote while in prison, 75% of respondents felt they did not have enough information, 18% said they had and 7% were not sure.
Participation in 2022 Local Government elections
- Respondents were asked whether they had voted in the 2022 Local Government elections, with 9% stating that they had voted, 84% had not voted and 7% either didn't know or preferred not to say.
- Of those who voted, 63% felt they did not have enough information about candidates and parties to inform how they voted while in prison, 25% were unsure and 13% stated that they felt they had enough information.
The findings detailed in this report suggest that the majority of prisoners who voted in the 2022 Scottish Local Government elections, and who completed the survey, felt that the processes put in place to facilitate voting could benefit from further consideration and improvement. Areas for improvement included better information on how to register and who was eligible to vote, as well as information regarding political parties, candidates and their policy positions.
However it should also be kept in mind that the results of this survey are not necessarily reflective of the entire eligible population of prisoners. As such further research and information gathering may provide a more detailed understanding of how to encourage participation, and the broader views of prisoners on their recently acquired right to vote.
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