To: The Editor
Subject: Letters sent to The Honorable Bill McCollum, Office of the Attorney General
It is the understanding of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, (FPCA) that the Florida Clemency Board is considering a change in the rules to automatically restore civil rights to nearly all felons upon release from prison, with no waiting period and no hearing to determine if those felons will go right back to a life of crime.
On behalf of the FPCA and its members, we strong oppose the removal of the 5-year waiting period in the current Rules of Executive Clemency as contemplated in the latest proposal to automatically restore the civil rights of felons. The 5-year waiting period is essential to ensure felons remain crime and arrest free.
Without a 5-year waiting period, there is no way to know if a felon will be a repeat offender and will commit an even more serious, violet crime. The 5-year waiting period, however, is based on the statistics we know - almost half of all felons will commit another crime. According to Florida's Department of Corrections, 45% of convicts will recommit offenses within 5 years of their release from prison. As we hear time and time again, these felons often commit more serious and more violent offenses.
It is important to ensure that likely repeat offenders, and particularly violent offenders, are not treated as law-abiding citizens. With Florida already experiencing a sharp increase in violent crimes, the FPCA urges members of the Clemency Board to retain the current 5-year waiting period to ensure felons are crime and arrest free.
W. Nolan McLeon, President, Florida Police Chiefs Association
It is understood by the Florida State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, that the Florida Clemency Board is considering a proposal that would automatically (without benefit of a hearing or review) and immediately completely restore the Civil Rights of most convicted felons upon completion of all terms and conditions of their sentence and release from prison with the exception of the ability to possess a firearm.
The right to serve on a jury, the right to vote and hold public office and the right to apply for and receive certain occupational/vocational licenses issued by the State of Florida are fundamental rights enjoyed by the vast majority of Florida's citizens. Our Civil Rights are valuable and held dear to the law abiding citizens of Florida and must be closely guarded. The law enforcement profession, a job held in common by our Fraternal Order of Police members, is well aware of the rights Florida's public enjoys and we have pledged an oath to uphold and protect those rights guaranteed by the Florida Constitution.
Under Florida's 1868 Constitution, convicted felons, people who demonstrate a propensity to violate our laws and who would disregard the rights of others and prey upon our peaceful society, lose their civil rights. As recently as 2005, the United States Supreme Court upheld the ban on voting by people with felony convictions in Johnson v. Bush by denying certiorari and leaving in place a decision by the full Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. The Florida Constitution provides for the restoration of Civil Rights to convicted felons by a grant of clemency from the Governor through the Clemency Board.
The current system may be both time consuming and often frustrating for the criminals who have completed their sentence and "paid their debt to society". We fully understand and appreciate the need to re-integrate these individuals back into society and give them the opportunity to become productive members of the community.
However, we are also well aware of the documented 40% to 50% recidivism rate during the first 5 years of release and believe in reality the rate is even higher. Criminals released back into the environment from where they came have a greater tendency to re-offend and create more victims. There is a "revolving door" in the system for many career criminal offenders. The immediate restoration of rights, only to have them taken away again in the first 5 years following release because of a new conviction would add to the frustration.
Full restoration of the right to serve on a jury could put a convicted drug dealer in the position of determining the guilt or innocence of another drug dealer. Full restoration of the right to apply for and possibly receive a Security Guard license from the State of Florida could put a convicted burglar or thief in a position of trust (sanctioned by the state) with the temptation to take advantage of another person's valuables. Could convicted sex offenders or purveyors of porn receive a license to run a day care center or someone convicted of elderly abuse work in an assisted living facility? The ability to hold public office for someone convicted of corruption? These types of scenarios simply do not make sense to us.
The Fraternal Order of Police asks the Clemency Board to consider instead of an immediate restoration of rights, the restoration of rights following a 5-year period after release in which the individual has not been re-arrested for any offense. A probationary period of sorts. We agree and recognize there are exceptional cases that may arise and suggest an investigation and hearing by the Clemency Board for such rare exceptions.
I have polled the leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police, our members by the very nature of our profession have strong feelings on this issue. We firmly believe once a criminal has elected to violate our laws and voluntarily give up their rights (by becoming a felon in the first place) they should have to earn their rights back and prove they are worthy through demonstrating the ability to live in society without re-offending and being a burden to the Criminal Justice system.
If the successful re-entry of criminal offenders into society is the goal, then the incentive of reaching a 5-year threshold for the restoration of civil rights is not an unreasonable task to ask of these individuals.
I hope that you will share our view and consider adding a time line of five years before the automatic restoration of civil rights to a convicted felon.
James W. Preston, President, Florida State Lodge