Newsbrief: Florida Ex-Cons to Get Voting Rights 8/1/03

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An agreement between the Florida Department of Corrections and a coalition of civil libertarians, black legislators and grassroots groups could lead to as many as 30,000 Florida felons being able to vote in time for next year's elections. The agreement would resolve a lawsuit brought two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union and others that charged the corrections department with failing to help inmates on the verge of release get their rights restored. The department is required to do so under Florida law.

Florida is one of seven states where voting rights are not automatically restored to felons upon completion of their sentences. Instead, prisoners must apply through the corrections department to the state's Executive Clemency Board, which ultimately decides who gets his rights restored. That process is cumbersome and benefits few, according to ACLU attorney Randall Berg, who argued the case. "You virtually have no chance," he told the Miami Herald.

The impact of ex-con disenfranchisement is greater in Florida than any other state, according to Human Rights Watch and the Sentencing Project. In a 1998 report, the two groups estimated that more than 525,000 felons in Florida had completed their sentences but were still unable to vote. More than 200,000 of those, or 39%, were black men. And this is the state where George Bush won the presidency with a mere handful of votes.

But the agreement affects only prisoners released between 1992 and 2001, about 125,000 people, and three-fourths of those will still have to go through the clemency process to determine whether they qualify for restoration of their rights. The remaining 30,000 inmates who, in the judgment of the corrections department, already qualify for restoration, will have their names sent to the clemency board for action without a hearing.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, drug offenders make up the single largest group of prisoners, accounting for 18% of all inmates. Florida had 73,000 prisoners at the end of 2002.

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Issue #298, 8/1/03 Kansas City Drug Fighting Tax Encounters Organized Opposition | Prison Population Increase Accelerates, Up 2.6% Last Year | Brazil's Lula Backslides on Drug Reform, Grants Military Continued Control Over Anti-Drug Agency | This Week in History | Newsbrief: Mozambique, Swazi Farmers Find Dagga Crop Lucrative, But Have to Adjust to Market Trends | Newsbrief: Brazil Bans Viagra Ads | Newsbrief: British Young People Using More Hard Drugs, Health Department Says | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Another Pain Doctor Charged With Murder | Newsbrief: Florida Ex-Cons to Get Voting Rights | Mini Briefs: Illinois Syringe Deregulation, James Geddes Released | Web Scan: OPN, HRC, Cultural Baggage, Salon.com | The Reformer's Calendar

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