Every year many of the 600,000 people released from federal and state prisons are without government-issued ID cards. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asked all state governors to provide state-issued IDs for newly released federal inmates reported the Atlantic magazine.
The Department of Justice cannot legally require states to do so, but it can ask states to allow citizens returning from federal prisons to exchange their federal Bureau of Prisons inmate ID and their authenticated release documentation for a state-issued ID.
At a re-entry event in Philadelphia in April, Lynch stated, “This basic step would have a powerful impact. As a practical matter, it would standardize the current patchwork of state policies around providing returning citizens with identification, and it would eliminate one of the most common — and most harmful — barriers to re-entry across the United States.”
“…Employers and other agencies do not recognize those IDs as legitimate”
Paul Samuels, president of Legal Action Center of New York, commented on the ID problem. “Most people don’t focus on it, but it’s a huge barrier for the formerly incarcerated, a huge barrier for caring for their families and themselves. It also leads to high rates of recidivism. People return to criminal activity when they run out of legitimate ways to normalize their situation,” he said.
BOP staff often work with inmates to obtain birth certificates so they can get a state-issued ID, where that’s an option. The stigma associated with having a criminal record makes it difficult to imagine providing prison-issued IDs as legitimate. Samuels asks, “Who will accept that in the community? Employers and other agencies do not recognize those IDs as legitimate.”
DMV rules in New York state allow the state prison ID to actually help people get a driver’s license or state-issued non-driver ID. Samuels warned that for many returning citizens the financial cost can be another barrier. He advises, “That’s why we suggest a waiver for people who are indigent. When people come out of jail they have very little money to get on their feet, so it’s important for the fees to be waived to help them get started.”
According to Lynch, California and a few other states allowed released state inmates to exchange their corrections department documentation for a state-issued ID to meet primary identification requirements for other state-issued forms of ID.