The Fortune Society
Do you have ID?” It’s a common question heard in most places we frequent, including banking institution, schools, and grocery stores. Many of us can say “yes” immediately, but for individuals with justice involvement, the answer is more complex.
Last year, Nicholas Posado, Benefits Coordinator for Fortune’s Benefits Application Assistance (Single Stop) program, shared with us some of the difficulties associated with getting an ID. In addition to bureaucracy and red tape, there are also financial challenges connected to the seemingly mundane task. For individuals just returning home from prison, with no secure source of income, each dollar counts. As Nicholas noted:
“The cost of a birth certificate and a social security card can be a challenge, [which creates additional hurdles to] getting an ID.”
In 2016, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch acknowledged the unnecessary difficulties individuals returning home from prison face when obtaining IDs, and encouraged state lawmakers to aid in offering an easier path.
“I am asking each state to work with us to allow citizens returning from federal prisons to exchange their federal BOP [Bureau of Prisons] inmate ID card—and their authenticated release documentation—for a state-issued ID. This basic step would have a powerful impact.”
A process for obtaining state identification prior to release would be an ideal situation. As The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center notes:
“Housing and employment—two important components of successful reentry—are nearly impossible to obtain without identification. As such, issuing state identification while people are still incarcerated is the most effective model to support successful reentry.”
This proposed solution reflects a larger issue within the nation’s current criminal justice system: Far too many individuals with justice involvement are woefully unprepared to return home. Since 1967, The Fortune Society has worked to address this. Programs like I-CAN (Individualized Corrections Achievement Network) offer skill building and discharge preparation, which includes applying for identification documents well in advance of an individual’s release date. And after returning to the community, Fortune participants can access Single Stop, where staff members like Nicholas assist them in obtaining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and more.
Having a supportive team to help navigate the many layers of community reentry is a vital component of success for individuals with justice involvement. Still, there are opportunities for the U.S. criminal justice system to remove unnecessary difficulties associated with obtaining basic documents for survival. The reasons why are compelling. The Legal Action Center states:
“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.”
Organizations around the nation, including California’s A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project and The Fortune Society, are providing direct impact to meet present needs, while also leading justice advocacy initiatives to ensure a fairer and human-centered future.
Be identified as an advocate for justice reform: Learn how you can get involved today.
*Written by Root Stitches LLC