REDESIGNED WEBSITE TO SPEED RESTORATION: www.RestoreRights.org
February 24, 2010
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tallahassee – With the number of Floridians waiting for restoration of their civil rights now at more than 100,000, representatives of the ACLU of Florida and other organizations joined lawmakers today to urge the Board of Executive Clemency, the Governor and Legislature to take steps to clear this embarrassing backlog, act on pending bills and remove obstacles to ex-offender employment.
According to independent estimates approximately 900,000 Floridians are without civil rights due to previous convictions. Today, the Florida Parole Commission estimates that more than 100,000 Floridians have restoration applications pending. Any of the applicants in this backlog who were convicted of non-violent offences should have received “automatic” restoration of their civil rights based on 2007 revisions by the Board of Executive Clemency.
The new Board of Executive Clemency, which consists of the Governor and three elected Cabinet members, convened their first meeting today.
“Failure to act – whether it be by the Clemency Board or the Legislature – leaves these people on hold, unable to get jobs and fully rejoin our community,” said Dale Landry, President Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP. “Leaders have known about this problem for years now and it’s time for leaders to lead and make it happen. The Bottom Line: Failure to correct this and provide a means for people to legally meet their basic needs increases the threat to public safety.”
Landry joined Joyce Hamilton Henry, ACLU of Florida West Central Regional Director and other leaders in calling for swift action to restore civil rights to the more than 100,000 Floridians in caught in the administrative backlog.
“Florida needs an automatic restoration process. We also need the Board of Executive Clemency to immediately tell Floridians how they will deal with the growing number of people who just want to move ahead with their lives,” Hamilton Henry said.
In addition to the social penalty of being convicted, ex-offenders are barred under Florida law from receiving occupational licenses in a number of fields until their rights are restored. Lawmakers are currently considering the "Jim King Keep Florida Working Act" to “de-couple” convictions from occupational licenses. The bills (SB146/HB449) are sponsored by Sen. Chris Smith (D-Oakland Park) and Rep. Dwayne Taylor (D-Daytona Beach) who participated in the press conference.
“For years the Jim King Keep Florida Working Act has surfaced in legislation” said Rep. Taylor. “It’s time for the Legislature to pass this reasonable reform.”
“Employment is a key component to preventing crime. We can either try to get ex-offenders jobs and careers so they can cash paychecks and pay taxes or taxpayers can keep spinning the revolving door of our prison system,” said Sen. Smith. “If we want Floridians to get to work, we should not stand between anyone and a job.”
Governor Jeb Bush’s ex-offender Task Force called for de-coupling in 2006, Governor Crist supported it and Governor Rick Scott’s transition team recommended the legislature “review and revise Florida’s employment restrictions for ex-offenders.” Scott’s Task Force also reported, “There is no consistency or predictability in the rules, laws or policies that impose these restrictions” and “most restrictions are not closely related to the safety, trust and responsibly required of the job.”
“It’s long been proven that a good job is one of the real keys to keeping people out of the criminal justice system,” said ACLU’s Hamilton Henry. “Releasing people from prison but maintaining an inefficient and costly system that blocks them from real jobs is the opposite of what Florida needs to do.”
Also filed for consideration by the Legislature this year are proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution (HJR51/SJR538) which would reinstate voting rights for convicted felons who have completed their sentences.
The House sponsor of HJR51, Rep. Ari Porth (D-Coral Springs), also spoke on his proposal, “These Floridians pay taxes and are expected to be model citizens and yet we don’t let them have a voice in the democratic process of electing the people who are supposed to represent us all. It’s wrong.”
Despite the legislative proposals and restoration backlog, neither the Board of Executive Clemency nor the Scott Administration have offered a plan to address the problem.
To assist ex-offenders in filing their petitions and simplify the application process, participants unveiled www.RestoreRights.org – a project of the ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
“The United States military grants waivers to ex-offenders, trains them, arms them and sends them overseas to defend us but the state of Florida won’t let any get a license to kill termites,” Hamilton Henry said.
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Editor’s Note: Local Floridians waiting to have civil rights restored may be available for interview. Please contact the ACLU of Florida media office to arrange an interview.
About the ACLU of Florida: The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.