More than 115,000 people with felony records have regained their civil rights in the 14 months since he pushed for changes in Florida’s civil rights restoration system, reports the St. Petersburg Times. They regained their rights under a system that allows many non-violent ex-offenders to qualify without a hearing, as long as they have completed probation, have no pending criminal charges, and have paid restitution to victims.
“Forgiveness is very, very important,” Gov. Charlie Crist told a gathering of civil rights activists, prison officials and legislators. “Who doesn’t deserve a second chance?” Crist spoke at a “Restoration of Rights Summit” sponsored by the state Department of Corrections with a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. As the numbers of those who can register to vote swell, they have the potential to be a factor in the 2008 presidential election. About 25,000 won’t have their rights restored until Crist and three cabinet members sign documents that will entitle all of those ex-offenders to a legal certificate confirming their new status. Crist led a move to dismantle Florida’s Jim Crow-era laws, perpetuated by Democrats for decades, to erect lifelong barriers to ex-offenders seeking to regain their civil rights. Some experts say the restoration machinery is hampered by budget cuts at the Florida Parole Commission and a requirement that applicants for clemency undergo a cumbersome background check to determine whether their eligibility to hold a state license would pose a risk.