A report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Thursday says a felony conviction can can raise significant barriers in the lives of ex-felons after they have served their time in prison.
The report says each year more than 620,000 individuals are released from prison to face “collateral consequences” that can include difficulty obtaining the right to vote, getting a job, obtaining housing, receiving public assistance, even getting a driver’s license.
“These collateral consequences impose heavy burdens on formerly incarcerated persons’ ability successfully to reintegrate into free society and in so doing render all of us less equal and less safe,” said Commission Chair Catherine E. Lhamon. “Congress, and local communities, should heed the call documented in these pages to lift unnecessary restrictions and speed effective reentry for formerly incarcerated people.”
But, the report says actions in states like Florida provide some promise for change. Voters adopted Amendment 4 last November that calls for the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons.
“An estimated 1.4 to 1.5 million Floridians regained the right to vote as a result of the new amendment,” the report cited. “In Tampa alone, during the first week that the amendment took effect, the average number of voter registrations surged to about 2.5 times the average in the preceding months.“
The report was prepared before the Florida Legislature enacted a bill this past session that requires felons to pay off court fees, fines and restitutions before they can regain their voting rights. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will sign the requirements into law.
Some critics have referred to the requirement as a “poll tax” imposed on those who less likely to be able to pay court costs and other fees.
The Commission’s chair says the bill enacted this Spring tarnishes the hope that Amendment 4 originally provided.
“Florida was a shining beacon of hope. But the degree to which that shines has significantly darkened,” Lhamon said.
The report cited a study that found that only 55 percent of people released from incarceration report any earnings in the next year. For those who were employed, only 1 in 5 made more than $15,000 that year.
Supporters of the requirement to pay off fines and fees before voting rights are restored say Amendment 4 was intended to automatically restore those rights after a felon completed their sentence. They say that in order to serve a sentence, that includes paying court fees, fines and reparations.n