Punishment and social exclusion: National differences in prisoner disenfranchisement

Christopher Uggen, Mischelle Van Brakle, Heather McLaughlin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


As Sidney Verba and colleagues have noted, “casting a ballot is, by far, the most common act of citizenship in any democracy.” Although universal suffrage represents the democratic ideal, many nations have historically withheld the franchise from women and racial and ethnic minority groups. Even with the gradual incorporation of these groups, however, restrictions on prisoners have persisted. This chapter considers some of the sources of national variation in prisoner disenfranchisement policies. We ask a simple, macro-level question: To what extent are felon voting practices associated with national characteristics such as economic development, democratization, ethnic conflict, and punitiveness? We consider the relationship between each of these characteristics and prisoner disenfranchisement for a broad group of 105 nations, as well as a smaller subsample of 39 European nations. Consistent with expectations, we find prisoner disenfranchisement to be concentrated in less democratized nations with high incarceration rates and low levels of economic development. We consider the implications of these findings for democratic theories of citizenship and criminological theories of prisoner reintegration. Extant research suggests dramatic variation in the extent to which nations disenfranchise prisoners. International voting rights for prisoners essentially fall along a continuum. Some nations, such as Canada, Denmark, and South Africa, allow inmates to vote while in prison. Other countries, such as Egypt and the United Kingdom, ban all prisoners from voting. In between those extremes are countries that allow prisoners to vote under certain conditions, such as Australia, Belgium, and Japan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCriminal Disenfranchisement in an International Perspective
EditorsAlec Ewald, Brandon Rottinghaus
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511576713
ISBN (Print)9780521875615
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2009.


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