Florida’s decision to restore civil rights to many ex-felons is proving only a partial victory for ex-offenders. Until this year, Florida was one of 3 states that permanently disfranchised anyone convicted of a felony. The new law returns the right to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, and apply for certain occupational licenses to ex-felons.
Released prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes can automatically have their rights restored, while those convicted of more serious offenses must still go through a lengthy clemency process. The system already faces a backlog of applications which could take years to get through, and the prison system estimates that nearly 300,000 ex-inmates are eligible to have their rights restored. Many may not even know about the rule change and if they do, they must go through a lengthy process to have their rights restored.
Furthermore, ex-offenders cannot have their rights, including the right to hold an occupational license, restored until they pay all court-ordered restitution. This provision creates a barrier to employment which just makes it harder for the individual to pay restitution. Gov. Charlie Crist made ex-felon enfranchisement a priority when he assumed office. For more information, see CPA’s Voting Rights Restoration policy brief and model legislation and the ACLU of Florida’s press release. [St. Petersburg Times, NY Times]