Should Prisoners Have A Right To Vote?


Almost every individual residing in a democratic country is familiar with this fact that Democracy was formulated in order to serve the citizens of a nation. There is a very famous saying by Abraham Lincoln that, “Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people and by the people”. So the question here is that if a section of society is denied to cast their votes in the formation of the government then will it continue to follow a democratic system of running a nation? Aren’t all the prisoners losing their fundamental right to vote during the elections and isn’t this leading to prisoner disenfranchisement? If we particularly look at India which is known as the world’s  largest democracy then it can be clearly observed from the recent 2019 elections that out of the 90 crore Indians who were supposed to cast a vote 4 lakh Indians were not given this opportunity and the ones who were not provided this chance were prisoners. The question here is that if prisoners don’t have any right to cast a vote then why are still some countries like Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Spain etc legalizing the same and including the prisoners as well during the elections.                                                                                               

The Overall Perspective On Restriction Of Prisoners Right To Vote

Today many European countries have granted the prisoners their right to vote regardless of whatever crimes they have committed. It is true that prisoners are supposed to be punished for whatever offences they have committed but that doesn’t mean that they don’t owe any duties towards their country and should be prohibited from selecting their representative. The European Court of Human Rights in 2005 affirmed that restricting the prisoners from voting in Britain is the infringement of human rights and therefore Britain permitted a small no. of prisoners to cast their votes.  Another such example is of Germany, Norway and Portugal where prisoners can vote unless they have not committed an offence that is in particular targeting the state or any sort of political violence.

The Voice Of The Opposition On This Matter:   

As per the opposition the prisoners have themselves lost this liberty of casting a vote and are being punished for their deeds which they have committed. In order, to punish them it is essential to snatch these liberties that they have been provided with since they have broken the laws and disrespected the society. The opposition believes that it is necessary to restrict the prisoners from all these social liberties and follow the concept of civil death which says that an offender should not be included in any forms of rights that are generally enjoyed by the citizens of a nation like right to freedom and expression, right to possess or inherit property, right to file a case etc but today most of these don’t exist except for the right to vote.  The argument here is that a society operates when all the citizens are following a set of rules and if any citizen tries breaking it then they should be punished for that through a fair use of law and order and should be denied the fundamental rights which they have been enjoying. 

Why Is India Not Giving Voting Rights To Prisoners?

According to Section 62 (5) of the Representative Of Peoples Act the prisoners in India are not permitted to vote during elections.  As per the Indian constitution the voting privilege was neither a constitutional right nor a common law right, and was granted only by a statute. In 1997, while dismissing the petition demanding the right to vote for inmates, the Supreme Court of India (SC) (AIR 1997 SC 2814) received several arguments for the implementation of such a ban:

  • Resource crunch because it would entail the creation of a much wider police force and better security provisions to allow any prisoner in custody to vote again.
  • A person incarcerated for his or her own actions can not assert equal liberty.
  • To drive people with a criminal record away from the scene of elections.

Why India Should Give The Right To Vote?

As per Nelson Mandela Rules which was enabled in 1955 there were some particular with respect to the objective behind giving imprisonment and how a prisoner should be treated. According to article 58 of the Nelson Mandela Rules, the purpose and justification of a prison sentence or similar deprivative measure of liberty is to protect society against crime. This end will only be reached if the incarceration period is used to guarantee that the prisoner is not only happy but capable of living a law-abiding and self-supporting life upon his return to society, whenever possible. Moreover, article 61 says that prisoners’ welfare should not stress their isolation from society, but should take action to protect their continued involvement in it. The aim of punishing an offender should be promoting him to have a duty with regards to his/her society. It is not true that deterring the prisoners from casting votes can lower the crime rate in a nation. But refraining the prisoners from their right to vote can lead to a biased selection of a representative and this might be unfair to them because they didn’t get this opportunity to vote.  Furthermore, India follows a justice system where mostly the underprivileged sections of society particularly the Dalits, the tribes, and the economically backward classes are the ones who are targeted and put behind the bars because they don’t know what to do and don’t have sufficient money to hire lawyers. Therefore, this section of society is the one which is unable to cast their votes which leads to an unfair and biased system of selecting the representative of the state.  

Measures To Grant Voting Rights And Decrease Crime Rate

The focus of elections is to choose an appropriate leader who can help the country make progress and curb the problems of its citizens. The motive of the leader should not be only on deterrence, prevention and punishment of the  crime committed by an offender but they should also study the circumstances or the reasons which persuaded the culprit to commit such a crime as well as the possible ways to reintegrate the offender as a better person in the society.  If a prisoner is restricted from voting rights then it creates a distance between the prisoner and the society which results in generation of more crimes because the prisoner has not learnt anything from the offence he committed before so he keeps continuing this chain of crimes. The politicians when introducing their manifestos should keep in mind that they are not supposed to ignore the needs and demands of prisoners. It doesn’t mean that if a lawbreaker has gone against any of the rules and harmed the society then a lawmaker can also do the same by ignoring the conditions and needs of prisons. It is true that prisons have been constructed to punish the offenders who have harmed the society and did not abide by the laws of the country. However the leader has to be aware of his duties and responsibilities towards all the citizens of a nation equally whether they have committed a crime or not. This is what morality says and since the leader is the one who is in power, thus it becomes his duty to serve the prisoners and maintain the conditions of the prisons. Their laws and policies and ways they innovate can bring a positive change amongst the prisoners and lead to a decrease in the no. of crimes which will lead to a well-established and more secure and safer society. 


To conclude one should remember that it is very important to punish a prisoner for the crime he has committed whether it is for theft or murder but along with the punishment another important point to keep in mind is that in various jurisdictions rules are drawn up and modified, while rights are enshrined as basic. Today’s a felony, tomorrow could be safe. Therefore a right as important as the right to vote does not depend on the jail or imprisonment record. Lastly one should never forget that a citizen ‘s vote is a symbol of integrity and of individuality.




  1. What steps have been taken in some European countries to give the right to vote to prisoners?
  2. Why are countries like India still restricting the prisoners from their right to vote?
  3. What all steps should a leader take to preserve the rights of the prisoners as well as guarantee a safe and secure environment to all its citizens?
  4. What can be done in order to have a fair and unbiased selection of a representative with respect to those sections of society which are targeted the most in India?
  5. What are the measures that can be taken to lower the crime rate and grant voting rights to the prisoners? 

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