To be eligible, these felons must complete “all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” That means they would have paid restitution, court costs and fees, and completed community service, house arrest, jail and/or prison sentences, plus any other special conditions of parole or probation. Felons convicted of murder or a felony sex crime wouldn’t be eligible and would have to go through the regular executive clemency process.
Why is Amendment 4 on the November ballot? Almost 850,000 Florida voters across the state signed a citizen initiative petition to give all voters this good choice. Those who signed span Florida’s political spectrum — not just registered Republicans and Democrats but also members of a smaller party or “non-party-affiliated” voters (NPAs). So clearly Amendment 4 has strong bipartisan and nonpartisan support.
Amendment 4 is good public policy and smart justice. Here’s why:
• Data from the Florida Commission on Offender Review proves that the vast majority of felons who get their voting and other civil rights back don’t commit new crimes. They’ve learned their lesson and are trying to earn the second chance they’ve been given. On July 1, the commission reported to the Board of Executive Clemency (the governor and Florida Cabinet) that of the 992 felons granted restoration of civil rights in fiscal 2016 and 2017, only one was convicted of a new felony. (Yes, one of almost 1,000 people.) If you consider data from the last seven fiscal years, a total of 5,344 felons were granted clemency restoration of civil rights and only 12 were convicted of new felonies requiring state prison. That is smart justice.
• The reduction in the number of reoffending felons will have a positive $365 million economic impact, according to a credible economic study by the Washington Economics Group, based in Coral Gables. How? By leading to fewer prisons, more jobs and positive economic activity.
• Reduced prison construction and staffing costs will save $223 million. Florida taxpayers currently fund 56 major state prisons, numerous state prison annexes, camps and work release centers, 10 federal prisons and 67 county jails.
• Increased job earnings, taxes paid and economic investments by the felons themselves will generate another $142 million.
Many of the affected individuals are our family members, neighbors, co-workers, high school classmates, church friends and mutual acquaintances of people we know. Except for their status as felons, they’re regular Floridians who pay taxes, own homes and businesses, have kids and contribute to our schools and communities. Many of their convictions were for small drug possession or property crimes, often committed long ago when they were young.
Proposed constitutional amendments require a supermajority of 60 percent approval to be adopted. So please vote yes on Amendment 4 and save taxpayers money and help felons earn a second chance.