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NOW rallies push for ex-offender rights

admin | 12/28/2011, 7:30 a.m.

Studies by the Florida Parole Commission, Florida Department of Justice and a report commissioned by former Governor Jeb Bush suggest that restoration of civil rights has a significant impact on reducing crime and lowering recidivism rates while freeing up billions of dollars for much-needed areas like education and social services. But that didnt stop Florida Governor Rick Scott from pushing through laws that require ex-offenders to wait five to seven years before they can apply for restoration of their civil rights voting being primary among those rights. Scott also signed into law legislation that allows counties to place juveniles in adult detention centers. Ignoring the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act of 2002, which mandated the need for specialized facilities, resources and supervisors that would increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation, Scott insisted on exposing young offenders to adult inmate environments. Most recently, he has attempted to push through legislation that would allow for the privatization of Florida prisons to companies, many of whom have been major contributors to the governors and other Republicans campaigns. In response to these moves, a diverse coalition of civil and human rights organizations, voting rights advocates, labor organizations and elected officials recently led protests in five cities throughout the State of Florida to voice their discontent: South Florida, Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee and Jacksonville. We had about 300 people in Sunrise at the G.C. Carter Park gather in mid December to begin a public awareness campaign and stir up emotions as we enter the new year, said Desmond Meade, 44, president of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. We believe that there is strength in numbers thats why we have partnered with other groups like the ACLU, NAACP, Rainbow PUSH, the Florida League of Women Voters, The Occupy Movement and the Florida Immigration Coalition. Meade says there are several issues that are not only interconnected but essential to all members of society. Ex-offenders, he says, should be allowed to assimilate back into society without unnecessary obstacles. Collectively we can make a difference and be more effective, he said. We must stop the push for felony disenfranchisement, we must push for juvenile justice reform and we cannot allow for the continuance of voter suppression. The church comes aboard Rev. Roger Grimes, 72, senior pastor of Ft. Lauderdale COGIC and founder of Collaboration for Restoring Families, Inc., says the rally was about allowing formerly silenced and ignored voices to be heard. The church must step up to the plate whenever the rights of the oppressed are strategically being taken away, he said. Those who were once incarcerated have a tough time acclimating back into society. Immigrants often have a similar experience. Recidivism rates keep climbing because our government makes it nearly impossible for ex-offenders to get on with their lives. Thats simply wrong, unfair and certainly not in keeping with the Gospel. We are looking at a disproportionate number of Black men who have lost their right to vote. Its clear that this is all about keeping minorities away from the polls and defeating President Obama in 2012. We believe that if a person has served their time, there is no logical reason for denying them the rights and privileges of any other citizen. As the song goes, a change is gonna come, Meade added. We have already started by reaching out to the Latino and Haitian communities. When we come together and realize that we have a common foe, thats when we can turn the tide. We will be taking on Tallahassee and Rick Scott very soon. By D. Kevin McNeir kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com