For Immediate Release: April 16, 2008
Contact: Alexandra Bassil, ACLU, 786-363-2723 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--Today, the ACLU of Florida sent the letter below to Governor Crist and members of the Cabinet (who collectively serve as the Board of Executive Clemency), House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt warning that the restoration of civil rights (RCR) process could be severely impacted by the passage of House Bill 5075.
Please attribute the quote below to Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida:
“We are asking Gov. Crist and legislative leaders to carefully examine the proposed transfer of RCR functions from the Parole Commission to the Department of Corrections to ensure that the Governor’s commitment to address Florida disenfranchisement crisis is not undermined by governmental reorganization or perceived cost savings,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida.
Please attribute the second below to Muslima Lewis, Director, ACLU of Florida Racial Justice and Voting Rights Projects:
“Any change to the restoration of Civil Rights process that is not carefully analyzed to make sure that sufficient resources are devoted to RCR could set back the efforts to meet Gov. Crist’s commitment to expedite the restoration of civil rights,” said Muslima Lewis, Director of ACLU of Florida’s Racial Justice and Voting Rights Project.
April 16, 2008
Via First Class Mail and Electronic Transmission
Governor Charlie Crist, Office of the Governor
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Re: House Bill 5075
Dear Governor Crist:
We are writing to express our grave concerns about the future of restoration of civil rights (RCR) in Florida.
Specifically, we are concerned that efforts in the House of Representatives to move clemency functions from the Parole Commission to the Department of Corrections could significantly undercut the effectiveness of the April 2007 restoration of civil rights (RCR) reforms that you and members of the Board of Executive Clemency ushered in last year unless the State is diligent in ensuring that adequate resources are allocated to RCR processing. In a time of a contracting state budget, exceeding care must be taken to ensure that these critical RCR functions are performed in the most effective and cost-effective manner possible. Unfortunately, to date, it does not appear that the House seriously examined how RCR processing would be impacted by the passage of HB 5075.
In November 2007, the Florida Parole Commission (PC) requested 42 additional Full Time Equivalents (FTE) at a cost of close to $2.3 million in order to expeditiously process RCR applications. This request for additional resources reflects the Parole Commission’s own assessment of what is required to properly administer the current Clemency Rules, which still require case-by-case analysis and significant paperwork.
Rather than considering the funding request of the Parole Commission, and without considering what type of resources are needed to adequately process RCR requests, the House passed HB 5075 that would remove the Clemency functions (including RCR processing) from the Parole Commission and transfer those functions to the Department of Corrections.
At this point, too little is known to evaluate how this transfer of RCR processing will impact the efficiency with which RCR cases are processed. However, it is clear is that no serious thought or analysis was given to how and whether those RCR functions can be handled by the Department of Corrections or how the transfer to the Department of Corrections may impact the current backlog of applications and the processing of future applications.
Transfer of clemency functions to the DOC is apparently being justified, in large part, on claimed cost savings. However, any such claimed cost savings are illusory. Without adequate funding, RCR processing will be delayed, which will only delay the ability of individuals to re-enter the workforce and contributing to the state’s economy.
Before any decision is made to transfer RCR processing from the Parole Commission to the Department of Corrections, important questions must be answered, including:
If RCR functions are transferred from the Parole Commission to the Department of Corrections, will the number of FTE’s dedicated to processing RCR remain the same, be reduced or increased?
What funding will be available at the Department of Corrections to undertake meaningful outreach and public education regarding the RCR process?
What are the cost savings that will be realized by transferring RCR processing to the Department of Corrections from the Parole Commission? How will those cost savings be realized?
Will the fact that the Department of Corrections is involved in RCR processing become a deterrent to citizens seeking to restore their civil rights?
Under the current Clemency Rules, it is unrealistic to believe RCR processing can be done more expeditiously - by either the Department of Corrections or the Parole Commission - without significant additional resources. Without adequate funding (at either the Department of Corrections or the Parole Commission), your goal to streamline the RCR process will be significantly undermined and the backlog of RCR cases will increase exponentially.
Given the nature of the current Clemency Rules relating to RCR, additional resources, not less are needed to process RCR cases in a timely fashion. If in the current fiscal environment, additional resources are not available, then we suggest it is time for the Board of Executive Clemency to implement additional clemency reforms so the RCR process is more automatic and paperwork-free, thereby eliminating unnecessary backlogs and ensuring prompt civil rights restorations without significant costs to the Florida taxpayers.
As you stated on April 5, 2007, the clemency rule changes adopted at that time were an important step in reforming Florida’s restoration of civil rights process. We fear that any progress made since April 2007 could be fundamentally impeded, and, in fact, the RCR backlog could increase to the highest levels ever, if the state fails to adequately fund RCR processing.
There is no more significant civil rights issue in Florida than civil rights restoration. Careful attention must be given to any changes in the RCR process so Florida does not find itself failing to realize the important gains that the April 2007 rule changes made possible and, through either governmental reorganization or perceived cost savings, renege on its commitment to expedite RCR processing.
We look forward to your continued leadership on this issue and we remain available to provide assistance to your office and to the Legislature.
Very truly yours,
Howard Simon, Executive Director
Muslima Lewis, Director, Racial Justice and Voting Rights Projects
cc: Members of the Board of Executive Clemency, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Commissioner Charles Bronson, Attorney General Bill McCollum, House Speaker Marco Rubio, Senate President Ken Pruitt