Ken Hurley (right) president of the Jacksonville-area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, talks with Michael Vernon, who was released from prison 12 years ago, on Saturday in Jacksonville.
WILL DICKEY/The Times-Union
Last modified Sun., October 02, 2005 - 01:55 AM
Originally created Sunday, October 2, 2005
ACLU offers freed felons lessons on regaining rights
Rather than automatic restoration, Florida has an application process after prison.
By JOE BLACK, The Times-Union
About 30 people gathered Saturday for a workshop aimed at teaching felons how to regain civil rights after their release from prison.
Participants said the bans were among the last things that still tied them to their crimes.
People convicted of felonies must navigate an oft-criticized process to regain the right to vote, hold office and have some state licenses.
"People rebuild their lives and better themselves after prison, but they still don't get their fundamental rights," said Ken Hurley, president of the American Civil Liberties Union's greater Jacksonville chapter. "We're just here to help people go through this."
People who try to get their rights restored must apply through the Office of Executive Clemency in Tallahassee. Having paperwork reviewed can take 15 to 18 months. A hearing before the governor and Cabinet also may be necessary.
For more information on clemency, contact the American Civil Liberties Union, greater Jacksonville chapter, at (904) 396-5242.
Black state lawmakers have tried several times to pass bills that would restore civil rights for felons when they finish their sentence. They have been criticized by conservatives who characterized the move as a way to for liberals to get more Democratic voters at the polls.
Michael Vernon, 46, said he was released from prison 12 years ago after being convicted of drug charges. He said he wrote to state officials months ago, but has been waiting for more than a year.
"I just want to move on," he said. "I've moved on, got a job, started my life again. But, this is still hanging over my head."
Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet eased some rules on clemency last year, such as automatic restoration of rights after 15 years, unless the crime was a specific violent crime.
James Coleman, 34, said he served a 12-year prison sentence for armed robbery. While there he earned a college degree and made plans for a real estate business when he got out. Since then, he said he can't get a Realtor's license because that's also kept out of reach until clemency.
"Voting would be great, but I just want to make a living," he said. "I've done the classes and everything I need to, but I just can't take the final step."
joe.blackjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4380