Florida needs to let rehabilitated felons find work

A new bill sponsored by state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, attempts to limit the damage of a questionable move by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi by allowing some convicted felons to more easily find lawful work.

A policy put in place in 2007 by former Gov. Charlie Crist allowed felons convicted of non-violent crimes who have fulfilled their sentences to regain their ability to sit on juries, hold public office, vote and obtain an occupational license without having to first get approval from the state clemency board, which currently has more than 100,000 applicants usually waiting several years to be heard, according to the Florida Parole Commission.

This allowed non-violent offenders the chance to not only have judicial and political freedoms, but also gain the ability to find a lawful occupation and stay on the right track.

However, Bondi hopes to undo this policy, eliminating automatic clemency and making every convicted felon face the state’s all-Republican clemency board, which features Gov. Rick Scott and Bondi.

The board recently rejected clemency for James Dillon Roland II, a drug addict in the 1980s when he committed his crimes who has since earned a civil engineering degree, because of speeding tickets, according to the Miami Herald.

Eliminating this limited automatic clemency is foolish and polar to state interests.

Luckily, Smith’s proposed legislation will allow some felons the chance to at least qualify for occupational licenses without having to face the clemency board, according to Bay News 9.

Beyond keeping large portions of potentially Democratic voters from the polls – as blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic and convicted felons are disproportionately African- American, according to the Herald – this move will likely lead many felons to return to crime.

If felons can’t obtain an occupational license or serious work, they may return to criminal ventures to supplement income that’s needed immediately. Subsequently, this could create more victims and expenses for the state in the form of imprisonment or even social benefits to the jailed person’s children.

Smith’s proposal has the ability to satisfy the political reasons that often threaten restoring felons’ rights.

It won’t allow the automatic restoration of voting rights, which may not be desired by the state Republican opponents in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections, but it will allow felons the chance to get to work, which could reduce crime and its costs to victims and the state.

Though it may not matter much to many, this minimal right would allow those who have erred the chance to salvage their lives before their mistakes become even more burdensome to themselves and the people they love.

If felons are to be denied the right to vote, sit on juries or hold office, they should at least have a chance to get an occupational license, as they still face background checks anyway.