marcia-grant_web.jpgMIAMI — The recidivism rate for women who are incarcerated in Florida is 34 percent because the process for them to re-enter society has too many barriers, speakers at a weekend conference said.

“In Florida, ex-offenders cannot work in 40 percent of professions. You are required to work upon release, so how do you find something sustainable?” said ex-offender advocate Vicki Lopez Lukis.

Also, studies show that, unlike women, men generally do not wait for a woman to be released from prison, said Marcia Grant, another advocate for ex-offender women.

“So housing becomes an issue, as well. I mean a lot of us leave children behind when serving a sentence,” Grant said.

Arrest records never go away, Grant said. “Once they run your name and [Social Security number], that record will come up, even though applications for jobs or housing ask about the last five to seven years. So you lie or have a friend get you an apartment. That’s not what needs to happen for a woman to be in an area that she can feel safe.”

Lukis and Grant, both ex-offenders, spoke to a group of about 25 women, also mostly ex-offenders on Saturday during the second day of the three-day Women’s Networking Conference at the Miami Marriott on the Bay, 1633 N. Bayshore Drive in Miami. About 200 women attended overall.

Lukis, a  former Lee County commissioner, was convicted in 1997 and served 15 and one-half months of a 27-month sentence for honest services fraud. The sole count on which she was convicted was based upon lies Lukis told to the press and the public regarding an illicit love affair she was then having with her now husband, who was at that time a lobbyist with interests before the County Commission and married to another woman.Lukis' sentence was vacated in February, which, in effect, erased her conviction.

Grant served 16 years on drug charges and was released in 2009. She now works for the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation.

The conference was hosted by Women in Freedom, which Grant founded to provide assistance with housing, professional skills and general support to female ex-offenders.

“There are no programs specifically for ex-offenders and these women need support to re-enter into society,” said Grant. “You have to get a job within a certain amount of time but can it help you be self-sufficient?”

The organization seeks out employers that are willing to work with ex-offenders, Grant said.

One should be able to work in any profession that is not related to one’s criminal record, Lukis said. “That’s what the governor’s ex-offenders task force said we should be doing. And we are trying for that here in Florida.”

The key this year is to identify the disqualifying offenses for every occupation and make sure it is on the state’s Web site so people won’t spend any money getting licensed and then not get a job, Lukis said. “Some of the other states are doing this. I just feel that those who have done well deserve a second chance,” she said.

Marilyn Haigler of Miami, who was among the speakers, said she attended the conference to support a friend.

“Sometimes you go through things and you think it’s just you and people don’t share information because they feel that it will make them less than who they are, for some reason,” Haigler said. “But if we all do more to help these women, we can take the next step together.”

Cynthia Roby can be reached at

Photo by James Forbes/For south Florida Times

MAKING A POINT: Marcia Grant makes a point at the Women’s Networking Conference held last weekend at the Miami Marriott on the Bay.