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Does Florida law unfairly punish ex-offenders?

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Friday, April 15, 2011

When an incarcerated person has paid a debt to society by serving jail or prison time, is released and ready to start a new life, many will have to wait a few years to be considered a real citizen.

At least, that is the new reality in Florida, where Governor Rick Scott, State Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Board of Executive Clemency changed rules about restoring voting rights to ex-offenders in the state. On March 16, the governor and board approved measures that will now require every ex-felon to wait five to seven years before being allowed to submit an application to the clemency board requesting eligibility to vote again.

In a March 9 news release the state attorney general said it is “appropriate” for the clemency board to restore voting rights to ex-offenders after they have demonstrated a commitment to living a crime-free life. “A reasonable waiting period gives us the opportunity to determine whether, in fact, the person has made that commitment,” said Atty. General Bondi.

Civil rights groups and prison advocacy organizations are outraged with the decision and say it will further disenfranchise Blacks and Latinos who make up a majority of incarcerated men and women. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said the decision would take away the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands and harm communities.

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