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Florida DOC Ordered to Assist Felons Restore Their Voting Rights

Florida DOC Ordered to Assist Felons Restore their Voting Rights

by David M. Reutter

A Florida circuit court has ordered the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to assist ex-felons who did not receive help in the application process for restoration of their civil rights as required by state law. Florida is one of six states that imposes a lifetime civil and voting rights ban on anyone convicted of a felony. The loss of civil rights takes away not only the right to vote but also the right to hold public office, serve on a jury, and qualify for certain types of state occupational licenses required for many jobs.

The FDOC, pursuant to § 944.293 Florida Statutes, is required to assist those who are about to be released from custody or supervision in the filing of an application for restoration of their civil rights. Between 1992 and 2001, the FDOC admits it failed to assist 124,769 offenders in filing the Office of Executive Clemency (OEC) application for civil rights restoration. As many as 30,000 of those offenders qualify for rights restoration without a hearing. The remaining offenders require a hearing before their rights are restored; that process often takes several years. Even then, there is no guarantee of restoration. The screening process to determine who is eligible for restoration without a hearing is expected to take up to 12 months. Once the OEC has restored ex-felon's rights without a hearing, FDOC will assist in mailing notices of restoration to those affected. FDOC will also assist the OEC in mailing applications for a hearing to the other offenders.

The lawsuit was brought by the Florida Caucus of Black Legislators, People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, Brothers of the Same Mind, Inner City Grass Roots Civic Coalition, and individuals with past felony convictions: Reginald Greenlee, Joseph Brown, Milton McCloud and Hollis Horton. They were represented by Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute, Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Florida and Charles Elsesser, Jr. of Florida Legal Services. A separate lawsuit is pending which challenges Florida's felon disenfranchisement laws as violating the federal Voting Rights Act. "Whatever good results that came from this case are only a drop in the bucket," said Berg, lead counsel in the lawsuit. "Many of these people should have had their rights restored nine years ago-further evidence that the entire process needs to be changed. And the governor and the cabinet can change this process this afternoon with a vote of the Clemency Board and stroke of the Governor's pen."

Florida's voting and civil rights ban affects more than 500,000 people. "Florida is way out of step with the rest of the country to not let people get on with their lives, pay their taxes, and have a say in the direction of their state and their family," said Florida senator Frederica Wilson. "Without question, people who have paid their dues to society and are free of the system should have their civil rights restored," she said. While the judgment does not affect Florida's revocation of civil rights for felons, it does require the FDOC to assist some ex prisoners in having those rights restored. See: Florida Caucus of Black Legislators v. Crosby, Florida Second Judicial Circuit Court, Case No. 01-659.

The Florida appeals court subsequently reversed the dismissal of the mandamus claims. PLN will report that ruling in its entirety shortly.

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Related legal case

Florida Caucus of Black Legislators v. Crosby