Suffrage for the sentenced : the implementation of the Scottish Elections Act and implications for imprisoned persons’ political engagement

  • Rebecca Zimmerman

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


There is little research on the processes, dynamics, and effects of penal enfranchisement in UK scholarship, and given the recency of the 2020 Scottish Election (Franchise and Representation) Act’s (“the Act”) passage and implementation, there is yet no independent Scottish research. Further, how imprisonment and criminalisation influence the withdrawal of certain groups from political life remains virtually unstudied in Scotland. This investigation explores the significance and meaning of, and capacity for, political participation among Scotland’s sentenced imprisoned population through a case study of the Act’s implementation in the lead-up to the 2022 Scottish local elections. Informed by penal abolitionist theory and advocacy research (Knopp et al., 1976), the study used semi-structured individual interviews with 22 sentenced imprisoned people and a methodology incorporating thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) and thematic narrative analysis (Riessman, 2008) to evaluate barriers to and successes in practical and substantive aspects of prison voting. Particularly, this study examines the extent to which participants were willing, able, and empowered to engage with elections and politics during, and before, their imprisonment; conceptions of prison ‘citizenship’; and the significance and symbolism imprisoned people attribute to penal disenfranchisement. This dissertation advances a new theoretical framework of “pre-carceral disenfranchisement” to describe an effective deterrence from political participation among resource-deprived and overcriminalised communities, which generates substantive disenfranchisement of imprisoned people beginning before their imprisonment. Findings reveal that pre-carceral disenfranchisement emerges from the intersection of social, economic, cultural, and individual factors before penal incarceration, which individually, and with each other, breed the substantive disenfranchisement and political disengagement that functionally inhibit the political capacity of imprisoned people before their current imprisonment.
Date of Award24 Jan 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorLaura Piacentini (Supervisor) & Beth Weaver (Supervisor)

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