CityHub: Civil liberties council advocates for NSW prisoners’ right to vote

Yesterday, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) presented before the NSW Electoral Matters committee, calling for the elimination of existing constraints on prisoners' voting rights.

Despite First Nations people constituting 3.2% of Australia's population as of June 2022, they comprise 30.4% of NSW's adult prison population.

Under the NSW Electoral Act 2017, individuals convicted of an offense and serving a sentence of 12 months or more are barred from voting.

"The Council strongly believes that any exclusion of a person’s right to vote is a grave curtailing of the right to participate in a healthy democracy,” said NSWCCL in a statement released yesterday.

President Lydia Shelly said, “The right to vote is just one of a range of human rights such as freedom of speech and rights to associate, assemble and protest that are fundamental to democracy.

“We should not support laws that seek to exclude certain groups from being able to vote. We should not support governments that seek to exclude certain groups from voting and exercising their democratic rights”.

NSWCCL has also noted that since the Report of the 2021 NSW Select Committee on the High Level of First Nations People in Custody and Oversight and Review of Deaths in Custody was tabled in the NSW Parliament, 30 years after the Royal Commission’s Final Report was published, little progress has been made.

“The NSWCCL is deeply concerned about the unacceptably high level of First Nations people in custody. Enabling people in prison to vote is a small step forwards in addressing the enormous disadvantage that First Nations people face,” Ms Shelly continued.

“We should be connecting prisoners to society, giving them a stake in their communities’ future. Allowing prisoners to vote is a form of rehabilitation in itself.

“Revoking their right to vote is an extra penalty that reinforces feelings of disempowerment, isolation, and stigma”.

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