Restoration of Civil Rights for Former Felons
Voting is a right that many take for granted. And when someone breaks the law in Florida that privilege is taken away. But the state of Florida is working to restore those rights to people who've served their time.
In April, 2007 Governor Charlie Crist and the state cabinet approved a plan to give back the civil rights of non-violent convicted felons, but for those who say they've paid their debt to society the process has been slow, so local lawyers are coming to their aid.
For Harry Jones the mound of paperwork that sits on his dining room table rivals the legal papers that ended in a 10-year conviction for drug possession. The papers represent more than a year's work to have his civil rights restored.
"It says not locked up but still locked out...," he says as he holds a pamphlet from a recent talk he gave, "I think the entire process of one's restoration of his civil rights to be able to vote again is important."
The process as Jones has learned isn't simple. Since Gov. Crist granted clemency to former convicts applications have poured in.
"I'm caught in the shuffle of the bureaucracy of the paperwork," says Jones, who first began the application process in November, 2006.
So students and faculty at the University of Florida Levin School of Law have been going door-to-door and holding workshops to facilitate the process. The Coordinator and faculty member, Meshon Rawls says, "Unfortunately, even though that was a big step that was made by the governor in April, 2007 we want people to that you have to be proactive."
Rawls says there are 12,000 former felons in Alachua County alone who could be eligible to vote. But once free from jail right's are not automatically restored. Workshops like her's help clarify the steps. Steps that Jones says he's taken himself.
"I've done everything they asked me to do: gainful employment staying clean, drug free criminal free, criminal -thinking free," adds Jones.
But, according to Rawls, the restoration of civil rights means more to former felons.
"We are highlighting the right to vote but most of the people we see at the workshops they're really concerned about their livelihood and providing for their family," explains Rawls.
While Jones waits he remains active, often reaching out to others with checkered pasts. Jones says, "Not only that I've achieved my bachelor's degree, enrolled now for my master's degree, pressing toward my doctoral in theological studies."
He says his faith in the system remains strong, as he looks forward to voting in November.
The Virgil Hawkins Law Clinic regularly holds workshop to assist former felons with getting their right restored. A workshop is being held this evening from 5:30 to 7:00 pm at UF's Eastside Campus Community room on North East Waldo Road Building 1602.
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