Criminals sentenced to four years or more will be automatically excluded from the right to vote when it is extended to prisoners.
And sentencing judges will be given the discretion to stop those handed down a jail term of less than four years from casting a ballot while they are behind bars.
New legislation – due to be tabled in Parliament next year – will grant prisoners the right to vote only in elections to Westminster and the European Parliament, meaning that they will not have a voice in ballots for directly elected police chiefs.
The Government announced last month that it was throwing in the towel in a long-running legal battle in the European courts to prevent inmates voting.
But Prime Minister David Cameron made clear that he was doing so reluctantly, and would prefer to retain the ban which has been in place since 1870.
His spokesman said: “We are responding to court judgments. We have to comply with those judgments and we don’t want to get into a situation where we are compensating prisoners because we have not complied.
“It is not something the Prime Minister would do if he were given a free choice on this.”
Announcing the proposed restrictions on prisoners’ voting rights ahead of a parliamentary statement on December 20, constitutional reform minister Mark Harper said: “The Government has brought these proposals forward as a result of a court ruling which it is obliged to implement. This is not a choice, it is a legal obligation.”
The move comes after a man serving a life sentence for raping and murdering his niece lost his appeal over the right to vote while in jail.
Peter Chester – who is serving life for raping and strangling seven-year-old Donna Marie Gillbanks in Blackpool in 1977 – went to the Court of Appeal, where three judges unanimously dismissed the 55-year-old’s case and refused permission to go to the Supreme Court, the highest in the land.