Civil Rights Groups Petition Governor to Make Good on Promise to Florida's Disenfranchised listen12/09/10 Lisa Marzilli
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Today outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist made his last appearance before the state Clemency Board in Tallahassee. Topping his agenda was a posthumous pardon for deceased rock icon Jim Morrison who was convicted of indecent exposure in 1969.
The amount of local and national media attention surrounding the issue raised the ire of a host of civil rights groups, including the Florida ACLU and the Brennan Center for Justice, who said the Governor’s time would be better spent making good on a promise he made to thousands of Floridians three years ago.
"What we're trying to do is to get Governor Crist and other members of the Board of Executive Clemency to make good on the promises that they made in 2007 which was to restore Civil Rights, including voting rights to people with no history of violent offenses in an expedited manor. And that has happened for some. Some individuals have gotten their rights restored who would not have gotten their rights restored before, but thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals have just not had that promise realized at all, and in fact the process is even more bogged down in bureaucracy than it was before."
It's not only voting rights that we are talking about here, correct? It includes other civil rights. What are some of those?
"When someone has a past felony conviction they lose not only the right to vote but also the right to serve on a jury and the right to hold public office. Those are the three civil rights that we're talking about. And these are just real basic fundamental rights relating to being able to participate in the democratic process. After a person has served his or her time and completed the terms of his or her sentence."
And you also point out that Florida is one of only a few states in democracies worldwide that impose such a restriction on non-violent convicted offenders, correct?
"That's correct. There is no place that disenfranchises more people than Florida. It has some of the most draconian restrictions, not just in the US but certainly in the world."
You're also asking that the Clemency Board remove restitution as a precondition for Civil Rights restoration, although your not asking that these monetary judgments be completely waived.
"We're not asking for them to be waived at all. What we're suggesting is that there should not be a financial burden or hurdle placed for people to get fundamental civil rights including the right to vote restored. We also know that's good for victims who are owed restitution because of the linkage of between getting one's civil rights restored and being eligible for certain occupational licenses that could pay a higher wage that if people's civil rights are restored and they are then able to get these higher paying jobs they're in a better position to pay that restitution to the victim. So this is actually good all around."
Your letter also mentions the huge backlog of cases that the parole commission has been facing the last couple of years. Approximately how many cases are waiting for review?
"The numbers have been increasing exponentially, especially since the rule changes in 2007. Right now there are approximately 90,000 cases pending within the parole commission. That doesn't even count or include all of the individuals who's cases haven't even made it to the parole commission. But 90,000 cases. The parole commission is understaffed, and underfunded and wholly unable to process these cases in a reasonable time frame. And in fact some individuals who have, again, non-violent offenses have had their cases sitting at the parole commission since 2007. That's more than 3 years. That is just by any definition not the promised expedited review that got so much attention back in 2007."
So if Crist does sign or issue an executive order will that just blanketly return these people's civil rights today? Or what would be the time frame for that?
"That's what we're asking for, and certainly it can be done. An executive order signed by Governor Crist, and two other members of the Board of Executive Clemency could, by it's terms, immediately restore Civil Rights to individuals who at the time of the signing meet certain criteria. The criteria we are asking them to include would be non-violent offenses and people who have completed the terms of their sentence or the non-monetary terms of their sentence. So that could be done with the stroke of a pen from the Governor and two other members of the Cabinet and have that automatically take place. At that point those individuals would be eligible to go and register to vote."
How good do you think the chances are?
"Well, we're not going to give up the fight. With all of the attention that's being paid to today's Clemency Board meeting and what looks like a posthumous pardon of Jim Morrison we really are hoping that Floridians will use this occasion to pay attention to the current civil rights deprivation and really speak up and let the governor know what we know. Which is that most Floridians do support post sentence Civil Rights restoration. We're hopeful that the governor will hear the voices of all concerned for the citizens and do the right thing. Create a real legacy, create a lasting legacy."