More than 115,000 former felons who completed their sentences have had their civil rights restored since a new state rule went into effect 14 months ago, Gov. Charlie Crist said.
The rule by the Board of Executive Clemency, which Crist chairs, restored rights almost automatically, ending a policy of requiring the panel to act individually on every restoration of rights request. The rights include voting and the ability to get state and local licenses for certain types of jobs.
“Once somebody has truly paid their debt to society, we should recognize it,” Crist said Tuesday. “We should welcome them back into society and give them that second chance. Who doesn’t deserve a second chance?”
The 115,000 former felons Crist cited account for more than half of all former felons in the state who have had their rights restored during the last 14 years, according to the governor.
The governor made the announcement at a two-day summit of state officials, lawmakers, community activists, prison ministers and others to brainstorm ideas for keeping former inmates from returning to crime after their release.
At Crist’s urging, the clemency board approved the rule change in April 2007. Before then, Florida was among a handful of states that refused to automatically restore felons’ rights after they completed their sentences.
Only about 7,000 released felons had their rights restored annually under the old rule that required individual hearings and board action. Besides Crist, the board is made up of the state’s three elected Cabinet members.
Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil said he hoped the summit would help find alternatives to building more prisons to house repeat offenders. About a third of more than 11,000 inmates released annually are back in prison after three years.
“We simply can’t continue to keep doing the same old thing the same old way expecting we’re going to have some different outcomes,” McNeil said.
He said it will take courage for lawmakers to shift funding from prison building to providing inmates more drug and alcohol abuse treatment, education and training need to find jobs after they are released so they won’t return to crime.
“There are some who say that you’re either going to work for it, beg for it or steal it,” McNeil said.