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The Restoration of Civil Rights Project (RCR) is a volunteer-based organization that helps members of the community complete applications to restore three civil rights that are taken away when a person is convicted of a felony. They are the right to vote, sit in a jury and hold public office. Established in 200z5 by Attorney Meshon Rawls, RCR is comprised of law student volunteers, attorney volunteers from the Josiah T. Walls Bar Association, and other community volunteers.

Anyone who has been convicted of a felony in Florida automatically loses these civil rights, which can only be restored after a long waiting period and by an application requesting the governor to restore them. Prior felons must wait five to seven years after they complete their sentence to be eligible to apply for rights restoration. Once the waiting period ends, ex-felons must mail their applications to the Office of Executive Clemency in Tallahassee, then wait an indeterminable amount of time to receive a decision from the governor’s office.

The process for restoration of rights was not always this way. The Florida Constitution gives the governor the power to decide the rules surrounding rights restoration, which can change with each new governor. From 2007 to 2011, under Charlie Crist, ex-felons had their rights restored as soon as they completed their sentences. Over his term, Crist restored the rights of over 155,000 ex-felons who successfully finished their sentences.

Since Scott’s re-election in 2014, the restrictive rules of clemency have remained the same, making Florida the only state to require a five-year waiting period for each felony conviction.

The rules for restoring rights changed dramatically when Rick Scott took office in 2011. He implemented the current eligibility standard, which requires ex-felons to wait five to seven years after completing their sentences before applying to restore their rights. From 2011 to 2015, only 1,534 ex-felons were able to restore their rights. Since Scott’s re-election in 2014, the restrictive rules of clemency have remained the same, making Florida the only state to require a five-year waiting period for each felony conviction.

Under Florida Attorney Rawl’s direction, RCR helps convicted ex-felons navigate the rules of clemency to determine whether they are eligible to restore their rights. If they are, volunteers guide them through the process of completing and mailing the application to the governor’s office. RCR volunteers meet one-on-one with potential applicants during monthly workshops held around Gainesville (usually at public libraries). Volunteers will help determine whether attendees are eligible to apply for rights restoration

If you are interested in volunteering with RCR or hosting training for a group of volunteers, please email Taissa Morimoto at nimko2@ufl.edu. If you are interested in determining your eligibility and applying to have your rights restored, please attend an RCR’s workshop or call 352-273-0800 to speak to Taissa Morimoto at the Virgil Hawkins Civil Clinic.