Florida restores thousands of felons' rights
Friday, June 18, 2004 Posted: 11:48 AM EDT (1548 GMT)
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) -- Thousands of ex-felons will be able to vote, serve on juries and take jobs with state-licensed firms after having their civil rights restored by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet, sitting as Florida's clemency board.
Bush announced Thursday that state officials completed a review this week of 125,000 cases included in a lawsuit filed against the state on behalf of felons released from prison between 1992 and 2001.
About 22,000 of them were found to be eligible to have their rights automatically restored. Of those, about 11,000 have already regained their privileges.
Of the remaining 103,000, about half probably will be able to get their rights restored if they go through a hearing process, although it's not clear how many will seek to do so.
Many of the remaining 50,000 or so will not be eligible to have their rights restored for a variety of reasons.
"Some are back in prison, some have committed other crimes that make it such that they can't get their rights back," Bush said. Many others may have died or moved out of state.
A Tallahassee judge told the state last year to go back and assist those prisoners who completed sentences over the 10-year period because they had not been helped by the Department of Corrections, which failed to provide them with an application to regain civil rights as they left prison.
"We've gotten through it and it was a good thing to do," Bush said.
Besides the 125,000 cases covered in the lawsuit, Bush also said officials restored civil rights to another 20,861 in the last year and reduced the backlog of cases to just over 8,000.
Florida is one of six states that does not automatically restore civil rights to people who have completed their sentence on a felony conviction.
An attorney for the ACLU, Randy Berg, said the clemency panel's work still represents only a fraction of some 600,000 Floridians who he believes are disenfranchised.
"That figure is not going to go away until the governor and Cabinet make restoration automatic," said Berg, also executive director of the Florida Justice Institute. "(And) that ain't going to happen."
Berg said 30 percent of the all felons leaving prison qualify for having their rights restored. The severity of a crime is a determinant in eligibility for regaining one's rights.
The number of potential former felons denied the opportunity to vote has been part a particularly incendiary political issue in Florida since the 2000 presidential election when Republican George W. Bush, the older brother of the governor, carried Florida's decisive 25 electoral votes by 537 votes of more than 6 million cast.