Opposing views on prisoner voting

SHARE

by Greta Yeoman

A report suggesting the Government reinstate voting rights for all prisoners has prompted mixed reactions in South Canterbury.

The Waitangi Tribunal report, released on Monday, recommended the Government urgently amend the law to reinstate voting rights to all prisoners, regardless of their length of sentence.

It follows the 2010 law change by the then National government to remove prisoners’ voting rights entirely.

Previously, only prisoners with terms longer than three years could not vote.

Anglican Care South Canterbury social justice advocate Ruth Swale said she supported the tribunal’s recommendation to reinstate voting rights to all prisoners.

“I believe that it would be a positive step towards giving them a greater stake in society, and increasing their chances of reintegrating well on release.”

However, Rangitata National MP Andrew Falloon disagreed, saying when people went to prison they lost a range of rights, including voting.

“I believe that it would be a positive step towards giving them a greater stake in society, and increasing their chances of reintegrating well on release.”

“The legislation passed in 2010 fixed an anomaly where some prisoners were able to vote and some weren’t.”

While Waitaki National MP Jacqui Dean said the tribunal was “free to have this view [on voting rights]”, she did not fully address the question of whether she supported the law or not.

“I will be watching on with interest to see how the Minister for Justice Andrew Little and the Labour coalition respond.”

The tribunal report found the law was in “serious” breach of the Treaty of Waitangi because “Maori are significantly more incarcerated than non-Maori, especially for less serious crimes”.

In September 2018, 51% of the more than 10,000-strong prison population identified as Maori, compared with 15% of the general population.

“The legislation passed in 2010 fixed an anomaly where some prisoners were able to vote and some weren’t.”

Ms Swale said the disproportionate representation of Maori in prison was an “an indictment” of the current justice system.

“Increasing the Maori vote generally is vital to creating a greater balance in decision-making for us as a nation.”

Rangitata-based Labour list MP Jo Luxton said she was “personally” glad to see the tribunal’s recommendations.

“Encouraging those on sentences under three years in length to improve the wellbeing of their whanau, communities and children by voting from inside, I feel would be a valuable step towards successful reform upon release.”

She said while the Government was “prioritising tackling the bigger long-term challenges” around the justice systems, Mr Little and other ministers were putting together a report on the issue for Cabinet to consider.