Lawyers Assist Ex-Felons with Rights Restoration Process
By Louis C Ward
Ex-felons and others petitioning the Florida criminal justice system for restoration of their civil rights received expert assistance from lawyers in filling out “Applications for Clemency” at a “Restoration of Rights” Workshop held Saturday, June 29, 2013 at St Paul Missionary Baptist Church at 813 Pine Street, Sanford , Florida.
Sponsored by the Seminole County Democratic Black Caucus (SCDBC), the 3 hour workshop disproved many individual's myths about what an ex-felon looks like. Contrary to what many believe, many ex-felons are the neighborhood college student, the responsible parent, or that decent individual you know who's been trying to get a job.
The point is these individuals are ex-felons because they may have been convicted of drinking under age, hunting in the off season, or even bouncing 4 checks in a year or some other crime that Florida's court system has declared a felony.
Unfortunately, it's gets worse. These individuals have completed their time in prison, completed required supervision (parole or probation), and paid their monetary restitution to the state, but their civil rights still haven't been restored. They can not vote, get into affordable housing or get a decent job because they are labeled a felon.
What's the problem?
According to Ms.Phyllis Hancock, facilitator of the “Restoration of Rights” workshop (pictured left), it's the bureaucratic process to restore rights, which is controlled by the Florida Executive Board of Clemency.
The Executive Board of Clemency meets quarterly, and it hears only15 cases at every meeting. Florida has more than 1.2 million ex-felons, more than 900,000 of them have applied to have their civil rights restored. It's incomprehensible the Executive Board of Clemency only adjudicates 60 cases for restoration of rights a year with almost a million ex-felons applying.
Hancock informed workshop participants that there is an initiative being planned to take the restoration of rights process out of the hands of the governor and give it to the voters.
Some believe that the privatization of Florida prisons has a lot to do with the backlog of cases created by the “snail” movement of the Florida Executive Board of Clemency. The prison system is a big industry that produces employment and financial opportunities for many. The rights of ex-felons are not important when compared to employment and finance. When ex-felons cannot have their rights restored, they cannot get gainful employment. Ex-felons have to survive, so some will return to a life of crime. Then they become a permanent part of the vicious criminal justice system that doesn't rehabilitate lives, but condemns them to a life of hopelessness.
“I am glad that they are doing this workshop; it gives me a chance for a clean slate,” said Joseph Thomas (pictured left with SCDBC President, Lavonne Grayson) a junior in college, who came to the workshop to have his criminal record sealed. His criminal record has "been messing with me, in terms of employment, and undermining my chances in seeking a good career."
“We need more people to vote to change the laws,” said Carsandra Buie, an attorney who volunteered to help ex-felons complete 'Applications for Clemency'. “It was a good turnout and presentation. It was enlightening for me to tell people what they have to do to get straightened out”
“I want to get the information about restoration of rights for ex-felons out to the community so more volunteers will come out and help,” said Lavonne Grayson, President of SCDBC (pictured above). “It's important to work with ex-felons to help them have their rights restored, otherwise it's taxation without representation.”