Monday, August 08, 2011

Florida's New Clemency Rules Cause People To Say Stupid Things

The story goes like this: Florida was a state that didn't have automatic restoration of civil rights after a criminal was released from his sentence. Our former governor changed that. Then, one day, there was a cabinet meeting where at the very end, our new attorney general, under our new right-wing governor, simply asked why felons were having their rights restored automatically? Just like thiat, we got these new rules.

It's easy to understand why having a bunch of released prisoners without civil rights and awaiting a hearing became a problem. Florida likes to convict and sentence people to prison. Most of these people eventually are released. This is because most people are not sentenced to life in prison for things like drug possession, grand theft and other non-rape, robbery, murder type of crimes (although that may change if we keep going down this road).

When people are released, employers like to know that their "civil rights have been restored." This includes the right to vote (usually Democrat), the right to hold office, serve on a jury, etc... No civil rights, less chances of getting hired or even getting a professional license. (The new rules don't make it harder to get a professional license).

So now it's been several months since the new leaders in Florida decided we were all better off with felons waiting for hearings to restore their civil rights.

Here's the results according to the Miami Herald:

89,833 people are waiting to have their civil rights restored.

The wait is seven years for a clemency hearing. A huge backlog of pending cases means it likely will take much longer for felons to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury or run for office.

Here's where the "stupid things people say" I mentioned in the title comes in to play:

But a new report by the Florida Parole Commission shows that a released felon in Florida whose civil rights are restored is much less likely to commit a new crime than others in the overall prison population.

The report was quietly delivered to officials a few weeks ago and has not been discussed publicly.

So let's discuss it.

The agency studied 31,000 cases over a two-year period in 2009 and 2010 and found that about 11 percent of people whose civil rights were restored ended up back in custody. (note: that means 89% don't, but we don't mention that if we're elected officials).

And then of course the ACLU has to jump in and make total sense:

“This shows that the more you integrate people back into society, the more you’re going to reduce crime, save money and make the state safer,” said Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union, which strongly protested the new waiting periods for clemency hearings.

But our attorney general, sees it, well, differently:

Bondi said the report shows that making it harder for ex-felons to regain their civil rights was the correct decision.

It does?


Actually, no it doesn't.

It shows that people who have their rights restored are much, much less likely to re-offend. It's the notion of having their civil rights restored, not the wait.

Unfortunately, Floridians will not rise up and demand a return to the old/fairly new system. While we continue to create a permanent underclass in Florida and around the world, saving money, helping people who want to live crime-free lives, get jobs, is not something that excites us or even causes us to write a letter or make a call.

The list of those waiting for civil rights restoration will continue to grow. The process is now meaningless and too far removed from release to matter. Civil rights restoration is nothing more than a token decision that will be made much too late to affect a newly released job-seeker.

We all pay for this, daily. We pay each time a resident of our state cannot get a job. Crime is just as much a part of our economy as business. This is why when the business community stands up and demands change, it will happen.

For now, it's just he ACLU and a few criminal defense lawyers.

Like trees falling in a forrest.

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/ rules Post to Twitter