Why a Retired Asst. Police Chief Supports Amendment 4

I served as an officer in the Tampa Police Department for 30 years, so I believe in the rule of law. I believe there are consequences for our actions. People understand that incarceration plays a role in carrying out those consequences, but we rarely think about what happens after inmates have done their time. Should the consequences of their crime follow them even after they’ve paid their debt, when there’s no negative impact on public safety or crime victims? My experience tells me no, which is why I’m voting yes on Amendment 4, which would restore voting eligibility to people who have completed their sentence, including probation and parole. The amendment doesn’t apply to those convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Florida is one of four states that permanently bars the formerly incarcerated from voting for life. This has resulted in 1.4 million — or roughly 10% — of Floridians not being able to vote. An estimated 27% of all disenfranchised formerly incarcerated people nationwide reside in Florida.

A large part of successfully re-entering society is allowing individuals to take responsibility not only for themselves, but also for their families and communities. It’s hard to argue someone is a valued part of their community when they’re expected to work, pay taxes, and otherwise participate in society but aren’t allowed to exercise one of the most important responsibilities we have as Americans.

You may be asking yourself why this would be important to you. It’s in the public’s best interest to make sure people leaving prison have a chance to properly re-integrate. Recent studies show that formerly incarcerated people who are engaged in the civic process are less likely to commit new crimes and return to prison.According to the Florida Parole Commission, returning citizens who vote are three times less likely to re-offend. Another study concluded that allowing formerly incarcerated people to vote may reduce criminal activity “across-the-board for all criminal offenders” and lower re-arrest rates. Successful re-integration is better for all of us, including crime victims.

Formerly incarcerated people are being disenfranchised in Florida for political — not public safety — reasons. Florida’s government has argued that restoring voting eligibility for felons is an “act of grace” akin to a pardon. Until February 2018, formerly incarcerated individuals had to rely on the governor and a three-person cabinet to restore their voting eligibility, which meant their right to vote rested entirely on election cycles and who occupied the governor’s mansion. This is why the process was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who described the system as arbitrary, biased, and crushingly restrictive.

Our communities are safer and healthier when people who have paid their debt to society are eligible to vote. Over a million Floridians seeking a solution to this problem came together to place Amendment 4 on the ballot this November — and we should listen to them.

Assistant Chief John Bennett (Ret.) served with the Tampa Police Department for 30 years and later worked as an assistant administrator for Pinellas County, where he was responsible for overseeing public health, safety, and welfare. He is a speaker for theLaw Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, judges, and prosecutors who support criminal justice solutions that will improve public safety

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