John made a mistake when he was in his 20s — he made money selling marijuana. It was illegal and it was wrong, and he was punished for it.
John got caught, went to prison, served his term, and then turned his life around. He found a full-time job and started his own landscaping business. He got married, had two beautiful daughters and started saving money for their education. Then John found out his punishment hadn’t really ended when he got out of prison, he did not have the civil rights he enjoyed before his conviction.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors, the County Administrator and Pima County Public Defense Services are committed to helping restore the civil rights of John and the thousands of others like him — people who made a mistake, but have since paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance.
To fulfill this commitment, Pima County Public Defense Services is hosting a free rights restoration clinic during both weekends of the Pima County Fair, Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22 and 28 and 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside Old Pueblo Hall at the Pima County Fairgrounds.
In John’s case, he couldn’t move his family into a better neighborhood, because many landlords won’t rent to people with felony convictions. He couldn’t serve on a jury or vote for candidates he believed in, because everyone in Arizona automatically loses their civil rights after they are convicted of any felony, even a minor, nondangerous one. John had trouble getting business and education loans because his conviction followed him everywhere, like an invisible anchor chained to his neck, always slowing him down.
What John did was wrong, but not so wrong he and he family deserved to suffer his entire life.
John’s story is not unique; hundreds of thousands of Arizonans find it tremendously difficult to overcome their criminal histories, no matter how hard they try to make amends and become productive members of their communities. Even more concerning for the rest of us is that the collateral consequences of a felony conviction mar the very foundation of our republic.
There are few democratic principles more sacrosanct than one person, one vote. Yet automatic felon disenfranchisement laws like Arizona’s taint every local, state and federal election we have.
Arizona has the eighth highest percentage of disenfranchised voters in the nation with 221,170 people, or 4.25 percent of the state’s population, ineligible to vote in 2016 due to a criminal record. These are enormous numbers in a state where elections are often decided by less than 5,000 votes.
The rights restoration clinics are completely free and open to anyone who would like help getting their civil rights restored and their felony conviction set aside. If you or someone you know needs help, please come see us, and bring any court paperwork you have.
Our clinics will be staffed by an experienced group of volunteer lawyers, law students and community members who are committed to helping people move past their mistakes and forge better lives for themselves and their families. People like John. Thanks to his hard work, and help from Pima County Public Defense Services, John got his conviction set aside and his rights restored. He can now move his family into a better neighborhood, send his daughters to better schools and he’s looking forward to voting in November.
There are thousands of people like him in Pima County, and for everyone we help we strengthen our families, our community and our republic. We can’t wait to see you at the fair.