ACLU Applauds Court Decision Ordering Florida Department of Corrections to Assist Ex-Felons with Voting Rights Restoration
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TALLAHASSEE, FL – In a unanimous decision today, the First District Court of Appeal in Florida agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and ordered the Department of Corrections to provide prisoners with application forms for the restoration of their civil rights, including the right to vote, and to assist prisoners in the preparation of the forms prior to their release from supervision.
“We are pleased that the state of Florida has been ordered to assist inmates who have completed their sentences in applying for a hearing to request the restoration of their civil rights,” said Randall C. Berg, Jr., an attorney with Florida Legal Services and lead counsel in the lawsuit.
“There are nearly 600,000 persons who have been stripped of the right to vote in Florida and who need to have their civil rights restored. Governor Bush could end this oppression today if he would simply amend the Rules of Executive Clemency to make restoration automatic. Governor Askew did it in 1975, and in doing so saved the state millions of dollars being wasted on processing civil rights restoration applications.”
The ACLU of Florida, Florida Justice Institute and Florida Legal Services jointly filed a lawsuit in 2001 challenging the state’s failure to comply with the law requiring the Department of Corrections to assist offenders with the application form prior to their release. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, three Miami-based organizations that work with ex-felons, and several individuals with past felony convictions.
“The question for the governor now is whether the state will stubbornly insist on maintaining its unjust and archaic system of lifetime disfranchisement,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “The cost to the state of maintaining Florida’s voting ban has just increased dramatically.”
Florida is one of only seven states that strip people of their civil and voting rights following a felony conviction. Unless the Board of Executive Clemency, which consists of the governor and members of his cabinet, restores those rights, the ban lasts a lifetime. In addition to the right to vote, people also lose their eligibility to hold many state job licenses, which directly impacts their ability to find meaningful employment and support their families.
During the lower court proceedings, Leon County Circuit Court Judge P. Kevin Davey found that officials failed to assist 124,769 individuals who were released from prison between 1992 and 2001 as required by law. He instructed the state to take steps to restore the civil and voting rights of nearly 30,000 people with past felony convictions, an estimated portion of the 124,769 inmates who would likely qualify for the restoration of civil and voting rights without a hearing before the clemency board.
“Basically, the court has ordered the state to do its job,” said Brian Dennis, President of Brothers of the Same Mind, an organizational plaintiff in the case that assists people with past felony convictions in re-entering society. “This is a step in the right direction, and one that has been needed for a long time.”
However, Judge Davey stopped short of blaming the Department of Corrections for shirking its legal obligation. He ruled that by transmitting a computerized list of inmates to the parole commission, prison officials were meeting their statutory obligations to assist former felons.
The case, Florida Conference of Black State Legislators et al. v. James Crosby, No. 1D03-3370, was filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee on behalf of Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, People United to Lead the Struggle For Equality (PULSE), Brothers of the Same Mind, Inner City Grass Roots Civic Coalition, and the following individual plaintiffs with past felony convictions: Reginald Greenlee, Joseph Brown, Milton McCloud and Hollis Horton.
In addition to Berg, Peter Siegel of the Florida Justice Institute and Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Florida are serving as attorneys in this case.
The opinion is available at http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Legal%20PDfs/FCBSL%20DCA%20opinion.pdf
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