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Expert Available: New Florida Legislation Disenfranchises Rehabilitated Citizens, MU Expert Says

March 10, 2011

Story Contact(s):
MU News Bureau, munewsbureau@missouri.edu, 573-882-6211

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The state of Florida has recently added a five-year waiting period to allow ex-felons the opportunity to vote, and a University of Missouri felon disenfranchisement law expert says that the state’s government has “added insult to injury” to those who are trying to become productive members of society.

S. David Mitchell, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law

S. David Mitchell, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law

Florida’s new rules state that released felons, specifically non-violent offenders, would have to wait five years after the conclusion of their sentences to apply to have their civil rights restored, rather than the automatic restoration upon the completion of the sentence. The action is counter to recent progress to quickly restore civil rights, S. David Mitchell, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law says, as many states have lessened restrictions. 

“The problem is that Florida has decided to add more time, even beyond the completion of the sentence,” Mitchell said. “The state ignores the issue that during the time period after a person has been released from prison it’s more difficult to find gainful employment and housing. These new restrictions make it even more difficult for these people to integrate back into society.”

Mitchell believes that the restrictions are politically motivated, rather than consideration of the civil rights of those affected. In 2007, the rules in Florida were changed, and throughout the next three years approximately 154,000 felons who had completed their sentences had their rights restored, including the right to vote. It has been suggested that the new policy will impact anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 ex-felons in their bid for restoration, and with one in ten African-Americans of voting age being denied the right to vote, the new policy has severe consequences for that community.

Mitchell joined the University of Missouri School of Law faculty in 2006 following a two-year position at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before heading to Colorado to teach and continue his research on felon disenfranchisement, Professor Mitchell served as a law clerk for the Honorable Andre M. Davis of the U.S. District Court of Maryland.

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