September 25, 2013

Shadow report submitted to the UN Committee on Human Rights details non-compliance with human rights obligations, including disfranchisement of over 1.5 million Floridians due to felony conviction.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 25, 2013
 ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363 - 2737

TALLAHASSEE - As the Florida Board of Executive Clemency meets today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida announces the submission of a Shadow Report detailing how Florida’s policy of  lifetime disfranchisement of former felons violates the U.S.’s human rights obligations. The report, submitted to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights in preparation for an upcoming review of human rights in the United States’, details how restrictions on voting rights for former felons in the U.S., including rights restoration restrictions passed by the Florida Board of Executive Clemency in 2011, violate the international rights agreement.

The report, entitled “Democracy Imprisoned," is co-authored by the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and The Sentencing Project. It was submitted to the UN Committee on Human Rights to explain how many policies, including the disfranchisement of felons exacerbated by Governor Rick Scott and the members of the clemency board during their first meeting in the new administration, have put the United States in non-compliance with its obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“The U.S. prides itself on having a participatory form of government, but the truth is that we still have a long way to go," stated ACLU of Florida Director of Legal Operations Nancy Abudu, who, in her previous role in the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, helped author the report. “Because of the difficulties that people in Florida and across the country have had when it comes to restoring their voting rights, we need to bring about real positive change. Voting is a human right, and barriers to voting in Florida are about to go under the international microscope for the whole world to see."

The UN Human Rights Committee is a body of experts established to monitor the ICCPR, an international treaty outlining nations’ obligations to protect and preserve a wide range of human rights. As a signatory to the covenant, the United States is subject to periodic review for compliance with the ICCPR, with its next review coming in October of this year. This spring, after the ACLU of Florida and other voting and human rights organizations submitted a letter to the UN Human Rights Committee urging the committee to review the disfranchisement of people with past felony convictions in Florida, the body agreed to include felon disfranchisement on the list of issues it will include in its review of the United States.

Additionally, the ACLU will be one of the NGOs to testify before the Committee in advance of US review which will take place on October 17 and 18 in Geneva, Switzerland. ACLU of Florida’s Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry will be among the ACLU staff reporting to the committee, giving testimony on how the Florida-specific issues laid out in the report constitute non-compliance with the ICCPR.

The report highlights how, as of 2010, Florida has disfranchised more than 1.5 million citizens due to a felony conviction, accounting for 10.42 percent of the state’s voting age population and 23.3 percent of the state’s African-American voting age population. New restrictions passed by Governor Rick Scott and the members of the clemency board in 2011 slowed the restoration of civil rights to a near complete stop: in 2007, approximately 115,000 grants of rights restoration were issued by then-governor Charlie Crist, but following the rules changes, it has all but stopped.

“The policies of the current administration, which mandates a 5 or 7 year wait coupled with excessive application and processing times which can take over 6 years, are over-burdensome on individuals trying to improve their lives," stated Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. “The restriction on rights restoration is counterproductive for rehabilitation, an affront to public safety, and its disproportionate impact on minority citizens shows that Jim Crow-style restrictions on democracy are not just a thing of the past in Florida."

The Report asks that the UN Human Rights Committee recommend that the U.S. Government publicly support the automatic restoration of voting rights to citizens upon their release from incarceration for felony conviction.

A copy of the report is available here:

(Note: This release was updated with more details regarding the ACLU testifying before the Committee and to add the dates of the review.)