Nationwide Survey of Identification Requirements for Newly Released Prisoners












The National H.I.R.E. Network conducted a statewide survey to better understand what obstacles exist in each state for a newly-released inmate to obtain proper identification. Once we completed the survey, we categorized the states and highlighted those with model practices and policies.


In 2003, we informally surveyed the Department of Corrections (DOC) in each state as to what, if any, identification is given to inmates upon release. We compared their answer to the type of ID the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) accepts as proof of identification to receive a state ID card. (DMV is used as the acronym for all states to represent the state agency responsible for issuing state ID cards and driver licenses.)

A. Department of Motor Vehicles Survey
With the exception of Rhode Island and New Hampshire, in which information was obtained through a telephone conversation with a DMV representative, we obtained the requirements for proof of identity, date of birth, social security number and residency from state DMV websites. They are based on the requirements for a first-time applicant. (ID requirements for a replacement card are usually less stringent).

B. Department of Corrections Survey
We acquired information from state DOC employees via telephone conversations and e-mail correspondence. We asked employees the following two questions: (1) What does the DOC issue to inmates for identification purposes upon release; and (2) Is the ID issued an acceptable form of proof of identification to obtain a state ID card? Because issues are often handled differently in each county and by each institution, there was considerable variation in the answers given by different employees who work in the same department. For example, a DOC employee in Florida stated that the pre-release program had been suspended due to lack of funding and nothing is given to inmates as identification, while another representative claimed that the DOC-issued ID can be used as acceptable proof of identification at the DMV. Therefore, some of the information provided by DOC in this survey may not reflect actual practice in all parts of a particular state.

Ten states did not respond to the survey. They are: Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.


For information on the specific requirements for obtaining ID in each state, please click here.

  • Two states, Illinois and Montana, currently have laws requiring the DMV to exchange DOC-issued ID for state-issued ID.

  • The DMV accepts some form of DOC documentation as proof of identity in 22 states (including the above mentioned).
  • - Of those 22 states, 6 states accept DOC documentation as primary proof of identification and16 states accept DOC documentation as a secondary form of identification.

  • Three states, California, Minnesota and Oregon, have created innovative pilot programs to address this issue.

  • In 10 states, what the DOC issues and claims can be used as proof of identification to obtain state-issued ID is not listed by the DMV as acceptable proof of identification. For example, in New York there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOC and the DMV that corrections documentation together with a birth certificate and social security card fulfills the identification requirements to obtain state-issued ID. In practice, however, the New York DMV has a daunting six-point system for proof of identification, which does not list any form of corrections documentation as an acceptable proof of identity. Also, Illinois passed legislation in 2000 to enable people with criminal records to exchange their DOC-issued ID for state ID within 30 days of release. However, the DMV does not list the DOC-issued ID card as an acceptable form of proof. A representative of the Legal Department at the Illinois Secretary of State (who helped in getting this legislation passed) explained that it was not necessary for the general public to know of the arrangement between the DOC and DMV. It is possible that the miscommunication between the DMV and DOC is not an oversight or an error on the part of either department.

  • In 20 states, there are no inter-agency agreements between the DMV and the DOC and the DMV does not accept any form of prison documentation as proof of identity. However of those 20 states, five are in the process of creating inter-agency agreements or enacting legislation to simplify the process for a newly released inmate to obtain state-issued identification.

  • A significant hurdle, particularly for inmates who have served their maximum sentence, is fulfilling the proof of residency requirement, which is currently required by 17 states before an ID card will be issued.


A. States with Statutes Requiring the DMV to Exchange DOC-Issued ID for State ID

  • Illinois: The DOC provides every inmate with an identification card, valid for 30 days, in a prescribed form identifying the person as being on parole or mandatory supervised release, issued a final discharge, or granted a pardon. The Department then informs the inmate that he or she may present the identification card to the Office of the Secretary of State upon application for a standard Illinois Identification Card.

  • Montana: A prison inmate card is issued by Montana DOC which contains a photo or digitized image of the applicant, the applicant’s date of birth and adult offender number, discharge certificate, or parole order from a Montana state correctional facility. These documents can be exchanged within 60 days after release, free of charge, for state-issued ID.

B. States that Accept Some Form of Corrections Documentation as Primary Proof of Identity

  • Arizona: Affidavit of ID (with photo and within 15 days of issue), from Arizona DOC, a county detention facility or a probation office in Arizona.

  • California: DMV accepts certified copy of certification from California Department of Corrections or California Youth Authority as verification of birth date and proof of legal presence within the United States an original.
  • Oregon: DMV accepts parole ID as proof of age and identity but not residency.

  • South Dakota: Prison release documentation can be used as one of the two documents necessary, along with a birth certificate, to obtain a state ID card.

  • Wisconsin: Prison release documents can be used for proof of identity but not for proof of name or residency. However, there is a cooperative agreement that a “face card” which is issued by the DOC and contains name of inmate, date of birth and physical characteristics, can be used, along with a social security card, to obtain a state ID.

C. States that Accept Some Form of Corrections Documentation as Secondary Proof of Identity

  • Arkansas: Prison release document accepted.

  • Connecticut: Prison release document accepted.

  • Delaware: Prison release document accepted.

  • Idaho: Idaho correction photo ID card or Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction ID card accepted as secondary proof of age and identity.

  • Indiana: (1) Letter from probation officer on letterhead or stationary, certified with a stamp or seal, with the applicant’s name and signature of the parole officer or (2) Prison release document with photo.

  • Iowa: Prison release document accepted. The DMV has a cooperative agreement to assist inmates in clearing up points and fines against their licenses before being released.

  • Kansas: Parole documents can only be used to apply for a replacement ID card. However, the DOC recently issued a new policy that requires unit counselors to obtain inmates birth certificate and social security card before release, which fulfills the DMV requirements to obtain an ID card. The DOC is also working on an agreement with the DMV to allow DOC to issue state ID cards.

  • Louisiana: Prison release document or letter from parole officer that must denote state identification number on fly sheet when possible.

  • Maryland: Memorandum of Understanding between DOC and DMV. Upon request, on day of release, an inmate is given an ID card, which can be used, along with a birth certificate (also can be obtained prior to release for those who need one), to obtain state-issued ID at the DMV. Court order of probation, order of parole or order of mandatory release can be used as one of two forms of proof of residence. The DMV website does not specifically state that prison ID will be accepted but includes an umbrella category that the DMV will accept a document prepared by any government agency which contains applicant’s name, date of birth and signature.

  • Massachusetts: Original Massachusetts DOC certificate of discharge or release accepted.

  • Missouri: Prison release document accepted.

  • Nebraska: Valid Nebraska DOC release inmate ID card accepted.

  • New Hampshire: Letter from parole officer with inmates address will be accepted as proof of residency only.

  • Vermont: Prison release document accepted.

  • Virginia: Criminal justice offender form or U.S. probation offender information form accepted.

  • Washington: A verification letter produced by DOC, U.S. Federal Correction authorities, DSHS, or the Kings County Department of Adult Detention accepted.

D. States Where What DOC Issues and Claims Can Be Used as Proof of Identification to Obtain a State ID Card Does Not Correspond to DMV Requirements for Proof of Identification

  • Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee.

E. States Where the DMV Does Not Accept Any Form of DOC Documentation

  • Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

F. Innovative Pilot Projects

  • California: In 2002, a parole division directive was initiated requiring that each inmate prior to release attend a Parole and Corrections program. The program focuses on issues such as housing, employment, education and substance abuse. An employee from the DMV attends these meetings, takes photos and collects relevant identification from inmates so ID can be issued upon release. However, this card standing alone does not meet DMV requirements for proof unless accompanied by another form of accepted proof.

  • Minnesota: In collaboration with the DMV, the Minnesota DOC installed state approved photo ID equipment, linked to state DMV computers, at several of its facilities. DMV employees then go to these facilities and process ID cards and driver’s license renewals for inmates before release.

  • Oregon: Thirty days before release, a card is issued through which food stamps and welfare are paid, thus avoiding the need for a newly released inmate to cash a check before he/she can obtain state ID. Oregon is also currently working on legislation to allow the DOC ID card to be renewed prior to release so that it can then be used as proof of identification to receive a state ID.

For information on the specific requirements for obtaining ID in each state, please click here.

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