Is our criminal justice system based on punishment for life, or restitution/debt paid?
When I was a kid, I watched westerns and rooted for my cowboy heroes against the crooks. Over the years, I’ve been a fan of whatever the latest police TV show was popular. Criminals were the “bad guys,” fictional characters on the screen for my entertainment. I never gave much thought to criminals . . . as people that is.
But with the upcoming election, I’ve had to reconsider my position. No, reconsider is not the word. I’ve had to establish my position.
Just as a person is presumed innocent until found guilty, a person who has served their time should be considered rehabilitated (unless they show otherwise) and bestowed the rights of full citizenship.
It would seem logical to allow the ex-offender to regain the rights of citizenship. In the case of Florida, this would include adding the right for non-violent ex-felons to vote. This is the intent of Amendment 4.
As a northern suburban Black child, I was raised in White schools, and the education I received was Anglo-centered. With the exception of slavery and Jim Crow laws, we were taught nothing about how our institutions, protected by the legislative and criminal justice systems, worked methodically to keep minorities at a disadvantage.
A disproportionate number of Blacks fill the jails. Consequently, when released, a disproportionate number of Blacks in Florida are denied voting rights that are afforded to ex-felons in most states across the nation.
In my younger days, I would not have made the leap from disenfranchising ex-felons to the concept of limiting or preventing Blacks, Browns, and the poor from voting. As a Northerner, voter suppression to me, meant poll taxes, literacy tests and counting beans in a jar. These were Southern racist means to keep minorities away from the decision making process afforded by voting.
Equal protection under the law is purported as an American standard. In reality, the person of financial means, able to retain a high-end lawyer, has a better chance of having a felony reduced to a misdemeanor. For the person in the lower economic strata the felony conviction is more likely to stand.
If I had access to this information when I was young, my views on the humanity of criminals would probably have been different. I might have been more compassionate towards the “bad guys.”
But it’s not too late to extend my compassion and vote Yes for Amendment 4.
written by Amy Bryant, Safety Harbor resident blogger
Author of You Can Go Home Again