Florida’s Rights Restoration Laws leave over a million Floridians in legal limbo
Florida’s Rights Restoration Laws leave over a million Floridians in legal limbo
OIC CEO Newton Sanon heads an employment and training agency which assists ex-offenders in becoming productive members of society.
Former Broward County Commissioner and member of the state legislature Josephus Eggelletion says that the denial of equal rights is nothing new for African American; only approach to rights restoration has changed.
By Charles Moseley
Ironically many Americans viewed the election of the nation’s first Black President in 2008 as a sign that the country had finally evolved historically and America had become a post racial society. However, since the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term in office, America has become more and more polarized along racial lines with class warfare becoming more and more the order of the day-The “Great Racial Divide” has reared its ugly head once a-gain and threatens to become worse before it gets better.
Historians and political scientists alike point out how widespread and prevalent racial equality is but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how widespread systematic racism is in the criminal justice system. As the economy woes continue to plague America and people of color continue to be at the bottom of society when it comes to economic access to upward mobility, the rights restoration issue continues to negatively impact people of color in a disproportionate manner.
To paraphrase civil rights activists Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., “voteless people is a hopeless people.” When you limit a person’s right to engage in the political process you relegate that segment of society to the status of second class citizenry. In the face of all the socio-economic and political ills facing the nation, the vote has become the most important weapon in to fight racial injustice.
The OIC of South Florida is a social service agency which assists ex-offenders particularly with job training and job placement opportunities. OIC CEO Newton Sanon believes one of the best ways that an ex-offender can begin to go down the path of success is by having their rights restored.
“At OIC We assist ex-offenders with successful re-integration into society through a holistic approach. OIC believes in offering support to our participants to help them to be productive members of society by providing employability skills and job placement assistance, but our training also extends to providing guidance on: the importance of being an active member of their family, ways of giving back to the community, and following all laws and societal norms.
Newton points out that African Americans are particularly hardest hit with respect to having their rights restored here in Florida.
“There is a lot of research that talks about the disproportionate number of African American males impacted by voter disenfranchisement and Florida leads the nation in these figures. In Florida 23.32 percent of African Americans were disenfranchised, based on 2010 estimates.”As we try to encourage all our participants to be active members of their com-munity, the message sent by disenfranchisement, that they are indeed not equal citizens, is counterproductive to the concept of rehabilitation.”
“We must work with our policy makers on reforming this policy. OIC’s motto is “Helping People to Help Themselves”, and our Philosophy is to offer a “hand up not a hand out” which denotes our perspective on accountability. Yet, if citizens have in fact done their time for their crime, and if we are in fact about ‘rehabilitation’ then as a community we must come together and recognize that a true ‘second chance’ requires us to acknowledge that these individuals have paid their debt to society and should be given the opportunity to participate again in making decisions that affect their families and their communities,” Sanon added.
Former Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion served two and a half years in federal prison. He also served in Florida’s State Legislature and on the Lauderdale Lakes City Council. Eggelletion observed that African Americans have been denied their civil rights throughout the history of this country. He pointed out that the Rights Restoration issue was the latest in a plethora of discriminatory practices aimed at prohibiting African Americans from full participation in American society as full citizens.
“The more things change the more they remain the same. Every generation in America, I don’t care who they are. You name the generation since the founding of this country and every generation’s tactics have been designed and evolved to effectively reach the same goal. And that goal has been there since the founding of the United States of America. And that is to keep African Americans from participating in the original meaning of the United States of America. It doesn’t matter the basis of exclusion and discrimination has not changed. The rational that is used to justify the outcome is the only thing that has changed. So when you talk about the restoration of rights what you have are people that are subject to legal discrimination; that is all it is. It was the same thing way back during slavery-Jim Crow and everything else. Now it’s legal discrimination. You’re legally discriminated against because you don’t have rights for employment. You’re legally discriminated against in housing. You’re legally discriminated against in education for convicted felons in certain schools. You’re legally discriminated against in public benefits. You’re legally discriminated against-you cannot serve on a jury. Just as our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents could not do under Jim Crow. So the only thing that has changed is the basic rationale that is being used to justify the same things they did under Jim Crow. You’ve got to understand this is not a new problem. It’s an old problem with a new theme.”
Thomas Walker Jr., is a Case Manager for Bridges of America Transitional Housing Program, which assists ex-offenders with living assistance. The ex-offender has worked toward his personal growth as well as helping others achieve successful re-entry into society sense his release from incarceration.
“When you reside in a state that leads the nation in denying ex-felons voting Rights, just the mere thought of re-entering any community in the state of Florida, is an apprehensive moment. That is exactly how I felt. Where is my opportunity to be a viable part of my community?”
”I had to walk a journey of nothing but faith. The process that I took required that I obtain a form of Restoration of Civil Rights Data Worksheet and submitting it to the Office of Executive Clemency, I waited approximately 12 months for their response. I also felt compelled to provide a resume of sorts, of all the community activities that consumed my non-working time such as: Prison Fellowship Ministry, mentoring, OIC Volunteer, and other re-entry programs. All of this played an integral part of regaining my rights.”
“In response to the topic of restoration of rights, I am reminded of the feelings that consumed me at the end of my sentence. Eroding those layers of the legal/penal experiences had to begin by changing the perspectives that I had of myself and the things that I was told that I couldn’t do; won’t do; and will never be able to do. This transformational process began with my understanding that I am a new creation and I am capable of achieving all things because God said I could,” concluded Walker.
Jimmy Davis is a free lance writer and columnist. He conveyed his thoughts regarding the restoration of rights by ex-offenders. Davis said that restoration of rights had become a partisan political issue, one used by the Republican Party to disenfranchise a certain segment of the electorate.
“Upon release from the criminal justice system citizens’ right to vote should automatically be restored, because they have paid penance to society. If America continues to disenfranchise citizens by not allowing ex-offenders to vote, then they are still being punished for a crime that they already served. “
This is clearly a political issue primarily because the Democrats who are normally liberal are for restoration of rights, “The Republicans are conservative and hold to the train of thought that once a man/woman walks out of prison, they are still criminals and should be treated as such. The Republicans also know that the majority of inmates that’s incarcerated espouse liberal views; henceforth will vote for liberal candidates. Inmates aren’t dumb and are well aware of the political antics that Republicans are playing “by stripping away their right to vote.”
“What’s next? – taking away the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which granted Black people in America the right to vote?”
“Furthermore, just because a person is serving time for a crime they may or may not have committed, they still should be afforded the opportunity to vote. This is a very scary thought for the Republican Party. I believe if these citizens were allowed to participate in the political process, America would never have a Republican president!”