Lake Monroe, FL— December 30, 2014. News of the Florida legislature potentially restoring felons who have completed their full sentences right to vote is encouraging. However, the exclusion of those who fall under the broad label of “sex offender” is a distinct failure not only to the reformed person and their family, but to the public in general.
The label “sex offender” applies to over a hundred acts with no consideration given to the low risk and non-violent offenses or for those who have fulfilled all required treatment and are making every attempt to return to being a contributing citizen. If our current policies are truly about public safety and we strongly believe that restoring voting rights to those who no longer pose a risk to public safety then we should include all former felons who do not pose a public safety risk, including sex offenders.
When one considers the research and empirical evidence on recidivism; sex offenders have a very low risk to recidivate whereas drug offenders, armed robbers, home invaders, perpetrators of domestic violence, auto theft, other property theft categories and almost all other categories of former offenders have a much, much higher recidivism rate. The label applies to thousands of individuals whose offenses were not violent or non-contact.
Our government is passing many laws severely restricting the liberties of this class of citizen it deems a “sex offender”. Many, such as residency restrictions, have proven ineffective and actually counter-productive to public safety. The irony is that the individuals who are affected by the laws have no voice in government to effectuate a change.
We need to recognize that former sex offenders are citizens. Although you might personally feel they are less worthy of the right to vote; it is important to remember that at one point the public felt the same about non-whites, non-protestants and even females!
We cannot have it both ways. We should include all categories of former offenders who have remained clear of new offenses related to their initial offenses or include none. No other charge mandates a lifelong label which is used to pass laws and ordinances under the guise of public safety, exhausting resources that would be better spent on prevention and support services for families and children in need. The lack of evidence based legislation only provides a platform for uninformed and/or fearful lawmakers to falsely claim they are all about public safety while passing laws that have little or no impact on public safety but waste millions of tax dollars that could truly make a difference.
Patty Wetterling, an outspoken opponent to what the public registry has become, whose son Jacob was abducted and after whom the Jacob Wetterling Act was named to establish a Public registry says it best: “We take everything away from those on the registry and then get mad at them when they do not succeed.” (ATSA National Conference 2013).
Legislators owe it to the citizens they represent to know the facts and enact laws accordingly.