Second Chances

The 2022 Florida Legislative Session

Teenage youth offenders being moved while in custody.
Michael Ainsworth / Dallas Morning News / Corbis

Writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck said,

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.”

That seemed to be the pervading spirit last legislative session when a juvenile expungement bill soared through both the House and Senate, but was ultimately halted at Governor DeSantis’ desk after he vetoed the bill.

This year, Representative David Smith and Senator Keith Perry are renewing their efforts to get legislation passed that would offer more of Florida’s young people a second chance at a prosperous life absent the yoke of a past record through the opportunity to complete a diversion program, and upon its completion, be eligible for expungement. Expungement means that the criminal history record is physically destroyed by any criminal justice entities that have it except for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which may only access the record for specific purposes.

This legislation is good for everyone. It is helpful for businesses looking to hire young people. It is good for public safety because people who can move on with their lives are less likely to reoffend. And it is good for the families and individuals who will directly benefit from having a past mistake sealed.

Currently in the state of Florida, youth who have successfully completed a diversion program can only have their record expunged if their participation in the program was for a misdemeanor offense. On top of that, only young people who completed a diversion program for a first-time misdemeanor offense can lawfully deny or not acknowledge that they participated in a diversion program and had their record cleared.

For example, they do not have to report this to a prospective employer.

Senate Bill 342 would expand these two policies to make it so youth that have completed a diversion program for not only misdemeanors but also non-forcible felonies are eligible to have their record expunged and are not required to disclose having participated in a diversion program and having their record cleared. Non-forcible felonies mean any felony offense except for ones like treason, burglary, and any other felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against anyone.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) along with organizations like the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, who led the effort on this change, support this bill. We are standing on the side of restoration and second chances, believing that our young people can and do change direction in life as a result of having been through transformative diversion programs.

Christian Minor, executive director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, explains what second chances for our youth really means:

“When someone completes a diversionary program, there is a ‘dismissal’ of those charges for the said offense.

For our kids completing these programs for felony offenses, the proverbial scarlet letter still remains. This means, if a 14-year-old completes a program for a felony, the soonest it can be expunged from their record is the age of 19. This impacts the child’s ability to apply for college, student loans, housing, jobs, the military, etc.

Not only are we stifling a child’s ability and opportunity to pursue all those avenues which would lead to them becoming a productive taxpaying member of society, but we are also telling them that their second chance was not truly one.”

FRRC hopes to see this bill passed. The futures of our children depend upon it.

Just think of the many returning citizen parents who have served prison sentences and come home to children who may be demonstrating behaviors that are reminiscent of their parents’ same path towards the gates of a state correctional facility. With desperate intensity, these parents try to avert their children from the same life-altering dangers of incarceration that they’ve endured. Considering those circumstances, the diversion programs make sense.

Show your support for Senate Bill 342 by contacting your state representative and senator respectively. Tell them you believe in second chances for Florida’s youth, and to cast a vote that says the very same.

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The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is committed to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions

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Chasman Barnes

Chasman Barnes

Chasman is a Policy Professional, Advocate for Returning Citizens in Criminal and Social Justice Reform, TEDx Speaker, and sought after Communicator.

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