Proposed Amendment 4 would restore voting rights to nonviolent felony offenders after they serve their debts to society.
The current rights-restoration system is badly broken. It’s biased against poor people, disproportionately affects minorities and is arbitrarily applied.
While the prohibition on ex-felons voting affects about twice as many white Floridians as black Floridians, blacks are affected disproportionately. For many reasons relating to geography, structural racism and the unequal effects of poverty, black people have more encounters with police proportionately than whites do. More encounters result in a higher arrest rate.
In the poorest neighborhoods in American cities, nearly four out of five residents are minorities. Poor urban areas are more likely to have been affected by white flight, financial redlining, economic decline, racial segregation, substandard schools, resulting poverty, joblessness and, accordingly, illicit industry.
The police focus their energies where crime is more concentrated; consequently, they spend more time patrolling the poorest urban, minority neighborhoods.
Barriers to equal justice also emerge after arrest, charging and incarceration. Poorer people are less able to afford bail, let alone expensive legal representation. For many poor people who can’t afford bail, pleading to a crime is their only way out of jail — and they often enter pleas before their public defenders have time to effectively represent them.
Florida has created a lengthy and arbitrary process for restoring the rights of ex-offenders; ultimately, it leaves important civil rights decisions to the whim of the governor.
Gov. Rick Scott has restored voting rights to only 2,500 ex-offenders over seven years.
By comparison, former Gov. Jeb Bush restored rights to 75,000 citizens over eight years; meanwhile, Scott’s immediate predecessor as governor, Charlie Crist, restored rights to 155,000 citizens over four years.
Amendment 4 would end Florida’s grossly unfair clemency system.
It would level the playing field among people who have committed crimes regardless of whether they’re rich or poor — and the amendment excludes rights restoration for those convicted of violent crimes like rape and murder.
Amendment 4 is a step toward a more equal, just and safe society.
Julie Delegal resides in Jacksonville.