tampabay.com

Details fuzzy in plan for ex-cons

Officials ponder what's next in the restoration of voting and other rights for felons.

By ALEX LEARY
Published April 10, 2007


Sam McCullough joined in the celebration last week when Gov. Charlie Crist won approval for a plan to automatically restore some civil rights to felons.

But like many ex-cons, the 52-year-old from Tampa was not sure what to do.

"I still don't know," McCullough said Monday.

Four days after the plan was approved, state officials are still trying to sort out the details as scores of felons ponder the right to vote and apply for occupational licenses and other civil rights that were once more difficult to restore.

People have already called supervisor of elections offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando seeking answers.

"We're referring them to the clemency board," said Tami Bentley, senior deputy of voter services in Pasco County, which got about 10 calls.

The Office of Executive Clemency has set up a phone number for people to call with questions and information is also available on a Web site, fpc.state.fl.us/Clemency.htm.

Many felons do not have to do anything to get their rights back. Provided they meet qualifications for automatic restoration the crime must have been nonviolent and all restitution must have been made, the state will send a certification through the mail.

About 38,000 people had already applied for restoration and their cases, just as those of people newly released from prison, will be evaluated by the Office of Executive Clemency.

But tens of thousands of other felons never sought restoration or were rejected when they first applied.

McCullough, who said he served time on drug charges in the 1990s, said he never got around to applying. He is hoping to move into an apartment and thinks that a certificate showing his rights have been restored will make him more credible. "I just want to get back everything I can," he said.

The Department of Corrections will review its records to identify people like McCullough, then pass along names and addresses to the clemency board, which will determine which are eligible for automatic restoration.

Not all addresses are valid, of course. Which is why state officials are urging felons to take "proactive" steps and contact the Office of Executive Clemency with their information.

The Corrections Department also plans a public awareness campaign, Secretary Jim McDonough said.

Some critics still worry about how the process will work.

"It doesn't sound automatic to me," said Muslima Lewis, director of racial justice and voting rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, referring to the steps some may still have to take.

Officials with the Corrections Department and Office of Executive Clemency said all effort will be made to expedite the cases, but caution it will take some time to work out all the details.

Clemency spokeswoman Jane Tillman said the department has a small staff, about 148 employees statewide, and they will have to be trained under the new rules. Databases also will have to be reworked to reflect the rule changes, she said.

"We know what we've got to do," Tillman said. "We're going to have to figure out how we're going to do it."

Additional clarity could come today, when the new clemency rules are discussed before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

Fast Facts:

 

What to do

Anyone needing information on the restoration of civil rights process should contact the Office of Executive Clemency:

Phone: 850-488-2952.

E-mail: Clemencyweb@fpc.state.fl.us.

Mail: The Office of Executive Clemency, 2601 Blair Stone Road, Building C, Tallahassee, FL 32399-2450.

The state Department of Corrections also has a number, 1-877-822-1987, though it refers people to clemency.