ACLU of Florida Says Governor's Proposals to Reform Clemency Process for Former Felons Fall Short
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MIAMI – Governor Jeb Bush’s recent statement supporting changes in the clemency process for former felons falls short of seriously addressing problems with the state’s arbitrary rights restoration procedures, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said today.
“If the Governor is serious about addressing the mass disenfranchisement of former felons in Florida, he should do everything in his power to make the process virtually automatic,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “Anything less would be the appearance of reform, not genuine reform.”
“Gov. Bush should follow in his brother’s footsteps and automatically restore the civil rights of felons who have completed all of the conditions of their sentences,” added Simon, referring to legislation signed by President George Bush when he was Governor of Texas eliminating the two-year waiting period for felons to automatically restore their rights upon completion of their sentences.
Florida is one of just seven states that permanently strip people of their civil rights, including the right to vote, following conviction of a felony. With more than 600,000 disenfranchised felons, Florida ranks at the top of the list of states that ban people from voting even after they have completed their sentences.
Most of the disenfranchised former felons in Florida lose their rights for life because the application process is complex and time-consuming, and since it’s a matter of “executive grace,” civil rights can be restored or denied for any reason or no reason at all. Only the Clemency Board – made up of Governor Bush and his Cabinet members – has the power to restore a person’s voting and civil rights.
In addition, there is an extensive list of so-called “disqualifying factors” – applying to nearly 70 percent of former felons – that are spelled out in Rule 9A of the Rules of Executive Clemency and that prohibit applicants from having their rights restored automatically. As a result, the vast majority of former felons currently being released from supervision must travel to Tallahassee to plead their case before the Clemency Board in order to regain their civil rights, which also includes the right to serve on a jury, hold public office and qualify for state occupational licenses. (Restoration of civil rights does not include specific authority to own, possess or use a firearm).
“The Governor and his Cabinet should vote at the December 9 Clemency Board meeting to bring Florida in line with the rest of the nation and automatically restore people’s civil rights after they’ve completed their sentences,” said Simon. “Automatic restoration will help people qualify for work and support their families, which benefits Florida as well as former felons by working to lower recidivism rates.”
Recognizing the importance of helping former felons regain their civil and voting rights, the ACLU of Florida continues – through its Voting Rights Restoration Project – to engage in community outreach, grassroots organizing and litigation geared toward helping former felons navigate the lengthy and often-times frustrating clemency process. The organization runs Rights Restoration Advocacy Centers in Miami, Tallahassee and Pensacola to provide people with past felony convictions with assistance – on an on-going basis – to restore their civil rights.
In addition, the ACLU is part of the statewide Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which is currently collecting signatures in support of the constitutional amendment to restore ex-felons’ voting rights after completion of their sentences. Nearly 500,000 signatures are required to place the amendment on the ballot.
“To really address the crisis in civil and voting rights in Florida, the Governor and Cabinet members should join us in urging the legislature to put on the ballot a proposal to eliminate the constitutional provision that mandates lifetime disenfranchisement,” added Simon.
For more on the campaign to restore the vote, visit: http://www.aclufl.org/issues/voting_rights/florida_voting_ban.cfm
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