Most of us have them in our wallets or purses right now—little laminated cards with our names and a typically bad photograph that identifies who we are and where we live. They are of vital importance to any number of routine tasks, be it cashing a check, purchasing an airline ticket, or applying for a job. We don’t think about it much when we have it, but would miss it terribly if it were to disappear.
For the more than 650,000 men and women who leave prison every year, however, it’s hard to ignore the challenges that come with not having valid identification. Yet many states do not provide returning citizens with ID cards, making it all the more challenging for them to succeed post-release.
United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch has recently acknowledged the problem, and is encouraging states to provide identification cards for former prisoners. However, the Department of Justice lacks the authority to enforce such suggestions, and has been unable to come up with an effective plan to issue federal ID cards for the previously incarcerated. And while correctional facilities usually provide prisoners with identification cards during their imprisonment, these cards are unlikely to be received well in post-prison society, if at all.
“Who will accept [prison ID cards] in the community?” asks Paul Samuels, the president of Legal Action Center in New York City, in a story in the Atlantic. “Employers and other agencies do not recognize those IDs as legitimate.” Samuels adds that while some states do allow former prisoners to use their prison ID cards in order to obtain state-issued cards, the cost in doing so can sometimes be prohibitive for prisoners who need those ID cards in order to obtain employment.
One issue that frequently arises when attempting to create adequate identification for former prisoners is the inability to properly identify these men and women in the first place. Many prisoners don’t have access to their birth certificates, which would then require some kind of alternative identification—such as a governmental ID card—in order to qualify to get registered. Such Catch-22s are all too common for those who have paid the debts for their crimes and only seek an opportunity to return to a normal life.
Prison Fellowship’s Second Prison Project seeks to remove hurdles like the need for adequate identification, helping men and women succeed after leaving prison. By eliminating barriers, former prisoners are allowed to become productive and contributing members of their communities, using their God-given talents to the benefit of those around them. To learn more about the Second Prison Project, and how you can be a part of unlocking second chances, visit https://secondprison.org/.