A group of Florida lawmakers, including the new Senate president and House speaker, say they will back legislation requiring county jails to assist felons with the restoration of their civil rights once they have served their time, reports the Miami Herald. If the changes become law, they would close a loophole that has cost an estimated 50,000 felons the chance to regain their civil rights in recent years — including the right to vote, serve on a jury or hold public office. The push comes after a Herald investigation into Florida’s system for restoring rights to felons.
The law requires the Department of Corrections to help felons released from state prison or supervision with the restoration of their rights, but the law ignores felons released from local jails, even though most are nonviolent offenders who should have the best shot at regaining their civil rights. State Sen. Frederica Wilson is drafting legislation that would require jails to provide clemency applications and assistance to outgoing inmates, as the DOC does for state inmates. Florida is one of seven states where felons are permanently stripped of their civil rights unless a clemency board restores them. Since 1987 fewer than 2 percent of all felons who had their rights restored came from jails. On an average day, about 58,000 people statewide are in county jails awaiting court proceedings or serving time for misdemeanors. More than 20 percent are serving time, usually a year or less, for felony convictions.