Dear Members and Advocates,

Last week, our Legal Chair of Florida Action Committee attended the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) conference. The topic of this conference is “Shattering the Shackles of Collateral Consequences” and it focused on strategies to eliminate barriers to reentry and the enduring challenges that come along with a criminal conviction. As we know all too well, there is no collateral consequence more debilitating than sex offender registration. Status as a “registered sex offender” is the only offense that adds collateral consequences to the pile long after conviction.

The conference was extremely productive and we brought back with us a wealth of useful information and contacts.

We all know that the United States locks up more of it’s citizens than any other country in the world, but what was surprising was that our country spends three (3) times as much on incarcerating people as we do on K-12 education. That’s insane!!! An obviously logical point when it comes to recidivism is that what keeps people from going back to prison, are the things that would have kept them from going to prison in the first place; such as a job, stable housing and community support. By making it impossible for someone to find work, creating housing instability and ensuring they are ostracized in the community – we’re just fostering the same environment that led to crime in the first place. That needs to end.

We also heard stories of hope. Jarrett Adams, Shon Hopwood (find his 60 Minutes interview on YouTube) and Serena Nunn McCullers, all former inmates who spent substantial amounts of time in prison, who have come out, earned their law degrees and are now licensed criminal defense lawyers (and reform advocates). Their stories are not only inspiring, but examples where, if you remove the barriers that prevent people from improving their lives following incarceration, they can go on to do great things.

Unfortunately, we also learned that even among the community of “reentering citizens” (ie: former felons), there is a prejudice against sex offenders. One of the speakers at the conference was Desmond Meade, himself a former felon, who is head of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. FRRC is the organization spearheading Amendment 4, the “Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative (2018)”. It is a ballot proposition that would restore voting rights to ex-felons… except murderers and sex offenders. Although his organization’s website claims their objective is to “end discrimination” – but they DO discriminate when they exclude anyone. When asked why they threw murderers and sex offenders under the bus, he replied “because people don’t like child molesters.”  Naturally we took the opportunity to speak with him after his panel and attempted to reach out by email since. We’ll see where that goes, but the lesson learned is that we need to do a lot of educating and outreach everywhere – even to those we think ought to know better.

On the other hand, we found support and positive news from a lot of individuals and organizations one would never think could be open minded or have the political courage to advocate for second chances. The current governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, spoke. What he’s doing in his state with accountability courts and second chances is ground-breaking and effective. Once out of prison, Georgia is also implementing policies to “ban the box” and offer financial incentives to businesses that hire former felons. They also offer limited liability to companies for hiring former felons (to protect companies that worry someone might re-offend). Other states need to learn from the example he’s setting.

The general consensus among most everyone at the conference was that the one element that can bring everyone to the table is the fiscal argument. Money! Showing the actual cost to the states and federal government of all the ineffective BS imposed on recently released offenders and the money they are foregoing had they instead enabled people to return to productivity after incarceration, would likely stagger policy makers who presently could care less about the human aspect of criminal justice.

Over the coming weeks we will be following up with the contacts we made and organizing strategies to spearhead some of what we brought back from the conference.


The Florida Action Committee



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