The Unfair Roadblock: Many people coming out of prison or jail are released without any official state identification other than a prison discharge slip or a department of corrections inmate card, neither of which are sufficient to obtain a job, place to live, public benefits, or necessities in the community. People who are incarcerated are very frequently separated from their “outside” possessions and even their “inside” possession as they are transferred within the system —birth certificates, social security cards, and state identification cards often disappear. The process of obtaining these documents upon release into the community, especially for those individuals who have been incarcerated for many years, can be daunting, and failure to do so quickly can doom their chances of successfully reintegrating into the community.
How to Remove the Roadblock: States should ensure that people released from prison are able to obtain proper state identification cards by requiring the state department of motor vehicles to provide identification to an individual with a state department of correction ID card. States should also create inter-agency agreements that ease the process for formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain state-issued identification.
tool kit provides materials advocates can use to seek passage of a state
law that allow individuals leaving prisons and jails to obtain state identification
using department of correction-issued documentation, including:
DESCRIPTION OF THE PROBLEM
In most states, individuals released from prison are not given any identification that would enable them to obtain a state-issued identification card, i.e. driver’s or non-driver’s license. Some states provide identification documents upon release but they are often not recognized as a sufficient source of proof of identity for most purposes. Without official state identification, people with criminal records are often unable to find employment, secure housing, or apply for public benefits.
In the United States, it is common practice for employers to require a newly hired employee to provide a copy of a state or federally issued identification. Even if a person without identification is fortunate enough to find work, the lack of a state ID can make it extremely difficult to cash paychecks or open a bank account. These barriers increase the likelihood that individuals with criminal records will fail in their attempts to reenter society and instead return to crime.
that people released from prison are able to obtain proper state ID cards
will remove some of the barriers to life-sustaining essentials. Research
shows that the first few weeks after release are critical to successful
reentry and preventing recidivism. Thus, it is crucial to make this transition
as smooth as possible. Easing the process of obtaining identification
is an inexpensive way for states to help former inmates make a successful
transition back into society.
The Legal Action Center’s National H.I.R.E. Network conducted a national survey to better understand what obstacles exist in each state for people newly released from prison to obtain proper identification and to identify models that could be implemented around the country.
We found that:
After reviewing the data compiled by the National H.I.R.E. Network, Western Michigan Legal Services, a legal services organization, developed five models that states might adopt to better address this issue, as well as a model for a check-cashing card. Click here to view model legislation developed by Western Michigan Legal Services.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you are in a state where it is difficult for individuals leaving prisons or jails to obtain state identification, you can advocate for passage of a law that would allow department of correction ID’s to be exchanged for a state-issued ID or some other approach that facilitates inter-agency communication and cooperation to ensure inmates being released from prison are able to secure ID as soon as possible after returning to the community. We strongly recommend that the law be modeled after Montana’s or Illinois’ statutes or operate as a state mandated program like that in California in conjunction with a cash card like that issued by the Oregon DOC. Such a combination of initiatives could go a long way to ensuring successful reentry.
your state is considering legislation to help individuals obtain proper
state ID cards immediately upon release from incarceration, alerting supportive
groups and individuals and asking them to contact their local legislators
to support the legislation is an effective way to bring about change.
for a model Action Alert you can shape for your specific needs and use
to seek grass roots support.