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Public Defender Explains Financial Struggles For Felons In Day Two Of Felon Voting Rights Trial

Inmate wearing a construction hat standing in the road holding a stop sign working.
Jana Lumley
Adobe Stock

The federal trial over a 2018 Florida law requiring felons to pay off their fines and penalties is underway. Plaintiffs argued Tuesday about how difficult that can be.

Carey Haughwout is a public defender for Palm Beach County.

"I say if you’re not poor coming in your certainly poor going out," Haughwout said.

Haughwout says about 80% of all criminal trials are done with a public defender. Those are the people appointed by courts to defend people who cannot afford their own attorney. Haughwout says by the time defendants get to the appeals process, that number goes up to 98%. And she says once behind bars their chance of earning any money is slim.

"The only paying job while in prison are through Pride Enterprises," Haughwout said. "And the last client I had that was able to get a job at Pride Industries while incarcerated was paid $1.20 an hour."

Haughwout says once people are released from prison, finding a job is even harder with a felony. She says 60 to 75 percent of felons are in need of housing and either end up homeless or staying on someone’s couch.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.