Currently, there are over 1.5 million people in Florida who have permanently lost their civil rights. This means there are 1.5 million Floridians who are unable to vote for the people who represent them in political office and have restricted access to safe, affordable housing; occupational licenses; and employment opportunities. The Florida state law that places a five- to seven-year waiting period on citizens returning from felony incarceration to have their rights restored has allowed millions of people to fall through the cracks. Even after a returning citizen has managed to endure the arduous waiting process, an application can take up to six additional years to be approved. Despite citizens waiting anywhere from 11 to 13 years to have their rights restored, there still ends up being only a 1% chance of the application actually being approved.
Florida is one of only 4 states that disenfranchise all citizens with a felony conviction. In attempts to fight this harsh injustice, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is committed to working with hundreds of organizations across the state to both educate and empower communities to fight for their rights. The coalition has most recently been working with a small group in Dr. Newcomb’s anthropology senior seminar course to compile the life histories of a few returning citizens who wish for their stories to inspire others in similar situations. The class is also focusing on contributing to the cause through hosting a talk on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 5PM in the Winter Park Plaza. The talk will feature Desmond Meade, a fellow returning citizen and FIU law school student, who has dedicated his life to furthering this cause. At the end of the talk, members of the class will be handing out pledge cards for the audience to sign that will be used to gauge support towards an amendment to the law in the 2016 election.
The 1.5 million Floridians who have fallen into this disenfranchised citizen category have lost their rights as well as their voices, despite having already served their time in the justice system. Being in the marginalized state that they are in, it becomes difficult for these returning citizens to assimilate back into a society in which they can no longer vote, and thus are only half a part of. These citizens have a much higher rate of recidivism and can go their whole free lives without ever completely gaining their rights back. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition will not rest until every returning citizen can feel what it is like to be a true American again, one pledge card at a time.