It’s an old problem: A person who has been released from the state prison wants to rebuild their life and needs an official identity card to do so. But this seemingly mundane task – obtaining ID – is similar to the bureaucratic absurdism of the Soviet era.
In the endangered period after you are released from one government agency, trying to prove who you are to another government agency drags on and on. You cannot go to the Foreign Secretary to get your license because you do not have a license. Basic documents like a birth certificate have been lost over the years. Your ability to get housing, a job, food aid or library card, open a bank account, or do pretty much anything to rebuild your life – including voting – is limited indefinitely.
“I had problems[whentryingtoget[whentryingtoget[beimVersuchzubekommen[whentryingtoget a status ID]”Said Dione Jamo Thomas, a former teenage significant other who was released from Michigan prison in 2017.” You need to have documentation of who you are. Some offices do not respect prison IDs [as an ID]. You need three types of identification to prove who you are. “
This year Michigan launched a new program to ensure that everyone who leaves prison has a state-issued ID and, if eligible, is registered to vote. This could have a transformative impact on civic participation of returning citizens, of whom approximately 9,000 leave Michigan prisons each year.
There is one nationally confusing patchwork of ID programs for people leaving prisons. But among those at the top has Virginia issued IDs For anyone approaching release since 2012. According to a legislative act in 2014, California done the sameAround 18,500 ID cards are produced annually. Georgia, home to one of the nation’s largest prison systems, announced At the beginning of 2018, it issued its first 2,500 ID cards to returning citizens.
The Michigan Department of State and Department of Corrections developed their ID program during a coronavirus pandemic that was taking an amazing toll on people in residential settings such as prisons. The program builds on a four year old initiative where the undersecretary of mobile office – a traveling unit that moves to different parishes and locations – visited four prisons per year for one day each. People about to be released had their photos taken and MDOC prepared their records. However, the mobile office could only process up to 100 IDs – a total of 400 per year or barely 5 percent of the number of people who needed them.
“It was a good proof of concept, but it didn’t serve as many people as we wanted,” said Kyle Kaminski, MDOC’s legislative liaison officer.
That began to change with the results of the elections in November 2018. Jocelyn Benson, a legal expert specializing in voting rights, has been elected as the new Michigan Secretary of State. Her mandate included the implementation of a package of “Promote reform of the electoral law this was done by referendum in the same election with 67 percent of the vote. These measures included gratuitous postal voting and automatic voter registration for eligible citizens when they receive or update a state ID card unless the citizen chooses not to.
The latter turned out to be crucial for people who were about to be released from prison when the ID program came up.
In the spring of 2020, a pilot program began with the aim of creating ID cards for 600-700 people leaving four prisons. MDOC bought cameras and set up photo backgrounds in the same style as in a branch of the Foreign Minister. It is therefore not apparent that the portraits on the ID cards were taken in the prison. The two departments split the cost of a full-time employee processing the IDs, and the proofreading staff helps prepare the required documents, which is not always easy. (For example, if the MDOC does not have original birth certificates on hand, it will seek them from the health department or, if necessary, in other states or countries, all free of charge for the individual.) The state combines this information into an official ID. For those with an active rating, this can be a driver’s license – “that’s a slightly higher quality document,” said Kaminski.
In September the program was expanded to all 29 MDOC-operated facilities nationwide. The aim, as stated in the Memorandum of Understanding, is to issue ID cards or driver’s licenses “to more than 6,000 legally permitted persons who leave prison each year”.
“That didn’t get a lot of recognition because of anything else, but this is a pretty big and important change,” said Kaminski. “This was a historical problem in most states and could be a model for other states as well.”
When the ID program was implemented, Covid-19 took a terrible toll. especially in prisons. To date, nearly 20,000 people in Michigan state prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus – about half of the total incarcerated population. With the state accelerating probation since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 7,000 people have been released since the spring, representing an above-expected demand for the land brand new ID program that has struggled to keep up with demand, especially due to chronic job openings and the staff shortage caused by the virus.
But eligible returning citizens who received new state IDs have also been registered to vote in time for the highly competitive Michigan presidential and Senate elections. As they prepared to return to their home communities, MDOC gave them a flyer full of exclamation marks to make sure they knew their rights. The banner headline: “YOU CAN VOTE!”