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Florida’s Civil Rights Restoration Process Insufficiently Funded

by David M. Reutter

With Florida continuing to face budget shortfalls due to the economic crisis, Governor Charlie Crist is looking for ways to slash government spending. However, his efforts are drawing fire from those who question cutting the budget of the Florida Parole Commission (FPC).

When Crist became governor, one of his first acts was to fulfill a campaign promise to restore the civil rights of ex-felons who were no longer under correctional supervision. He met resistance from his cabinet, which forced him to com-promise. As a result only certain classes of felons – mostly convicted of non-violent crimes – received automatic restora-tion of their rights. Still, from 2007 to 2009 more than 115,000 former felons have had their rights restored. [See: PLN, Jan. 2009, p.26].

Those not granted automatic restoration have to trudge through the clemency process, which requires a review and recommendation by the FPC. As of June 30, 2009 the FPC had 63,000 pending cases, and it expects 60,000 more an-nually due to prisoner releases. The State Auditor estimated it would take 71 staff members a full year to eliminate the backlog; the Auditor also blamed errors in some FPC cases on a lack of sufficient personnel.

The FPC’s $8 million budget for FY 2009-10, which funds 128 full-time employees, represents a 20 percent reduction from previous years – the largest cut of any Florida criminal justice agency. Critics claim that such a significant budget reduction contradicts the stated policies of Governor Crist’s administration.

Actually, had Crist’s desire to automatically restore all felons’ civil rights upon their release from correctional supervi-sion been fulfilled, there would be no backlog of clemency requests. In each of his annual budget proposals, Crist has recommended zero-budgeting the FPC and integrating it into the Florida Department of Corrections.

The FPC, however, has continued to survive, and even sought a budget increase of $1.2 million in FY 2010-11 to hire 20 more parole examiners. “Obviously, the greater the resources, the greater the ability for us to process cases in a more timely manner,” said FPC chairman Fredrick Dunphy. While the FPC’s appropriation for FY 2010-2011 stayed the same at $8 million and 128 positions, at least its funding was not reduced.

Stuck in the middle of the economic crisis and Florida’s budget debate are former prisoners seeking restoration of their rights to vote, run for public office, serve on a jury and hold state-issued professional licenses.

“Several hundred clemency investigations remain ahead of your clemency request,” FPC examiner Tawanna Hays wrote in a letter to Humberto Aguilar, an attorney who applied for restoration of his rights after completing a federal sen-tence for money laundering. “There is no information available that I would be able to provide to you regarding how long the process may take.”

Unfortunately, given the lack of funds to reduce the FPC’s backlog of tens of thousands of clemency applications, many other ex-prisoners in Florida will likely be waiting a long time to have their civil rights restored, too.

Source: The Miami Herald

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