TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the past decade, felons in Florida have had to wait at least five years after being released from prison before becoming eligible to have their civil rights restored.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the Board of Executive Clemency, did away with the waiting periods on Wednesday.
It opens the door for thousands of so-called “returning citizens” to have their rights restored.
It also may wipe out a backlog of thousands of cases awaiting review.
Khalil Osiris, the founder of the Reflecting Freedom Network, transformed his life after spending 20 years in prison and has spent countless years helping others do the same.
Osiris said the decision by the Clemency Board “steps in the historical stream” of the civil rights movement.
“(It) is doing something that we have been fighting for, for years, so I think it is time to celebrate,” Osiris said. “Before we use our effort to criticize, let’s think about what we can do with this opportunity that comes with an immense responsibility as well.”
Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, said the revamped clemency rules don’t go far enough to help indigent felons, who make up the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida who have served their time behind bars.
She wants them to be able to sign sworn affidavits to be eligible.
Osiris agreed that more needs to be done to help those who can’t afford to pay their legal fees and financial obligations, but he said it’s also important to recognize this key step for what it is – a victory.
“This is not a case where we should not start because we have some individuals who are not happy or some segment of the population who won’t benefit immediately. This is an important start and let me go farther than that, not only is it an important start, but here is what it does that’s significant historically -- this allows those of us who have felony convictions to now sit on juries to serve on juries and beyond serving on juries, this provides us with the opportunity to begin to organize and run for office ourselves -- that is a game changer. The fact that we now have the opportunity to step into this struggle in a way that holds us accountable for being law-abiding citizens on one side of it but gives us the pathway to citizen engagement that can change the laws that we have been fighting against and fighting for, for all these years,” Osiris said.
For more from his interview, watch the video above.