Civil Rights for Inmates

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An issue that took center stage during the 2004 election is back on the agenda at the Florida Capitol.

A push to help former inmates regain their civil rights passed a key Senate committee Tuesday. The bill would require that inmates of county jails and prisons be given assistance to make it happen, but one sheriff says he has neither the money nor manpower.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, the bill's sponsor, says it's a fairness issue and has to do with human dignity. Meanwhile, Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell says his inmates already have enough help when it comes to regaining their civil rights.

The question is whether inmates of Florida's jails and prisons fully understand how to regain their civil rights upon their release.

Sheriff Larry Campbell says, "Every one of them have legal council. They can certainly provide them with the information. I don't think I have enough correctional officers or deputy sheriffs to sit down and have an educational program for prisoners on how to get their civil rights back."

Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell says the inmates in his jail all have access to this information, but says he really doesn't see why he should be responsible for them obtaining information they know is there.

"Procedure for obtaining this information is in every library and prison. We'd be glad to provide the literature, but I don't think it's our responsibility," he adds.

Florida Sen. Frederica Wilson says changes brought on by the bill would not be costly to jail or prison officials.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, (R) Florida, District 33, says, "Public defenders across the state have indicated that they support the bill so much that they are willing to go into any county who feels it is any extra burden for them to assist these inmates as they leave jail."

Wilson says with the recent media attention on the voter rolls, she knew her bill would get the backing needed to pass.

Wilson says you would be surprised at the number of people who spent time in jail years ago for felony convictions, but no one ever told them that there was a process to regaining their civil rights.

The bill passed a the first of three Senate committees Tuesday, and its next stop is Community Affairs, and then on to judiciary.