August 28, 2017: JHA Public Comment on Rulemaking for Public Act 99-907

August 28, 2017:  JHA Public Comment on Rulemaking for Public Act 99-907

by Jennifer Vollen-Katz, Executive Director

For over 100 years, the John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) has served the people of the State of Illinois by providing critical independent oversight of the correctional policies and practices used inside Illinois prisons and advocated for reform of the State’s criminal justice system. JHA believes that the State of Illinois should provide a state identification card (“ID”) to all people leaving the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (“IDJJ”) at no cost to the incarcerated individual. In its December 2015 draft report, the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform identified that an offender’s access to a state identification card upon release is essential to successful reentry. In 2016, the Illinois General Assembly acted upon the Commission’s recommendation by introducing legislation to address this issue.  The result is the passage of that legislation and enactment of Public Act 99-0907 (“the Act”). The Act provides for the Illinois Secretary of State to issue a free Illinois Identification Card to persons being released from IDOC and IDJJ (“the Departments”) who present their birth certificate, Social Security card, or other documents authorized by the Secretary, as well as two proofs of address. For those who do not have and cannot offer underlying identification documents, a limited identification card verification form issued by the Departments which is a valid ID for 90 days is available.  During this 90-day window, a recently released individual who does not have the necessary underlying documents is given the opportunity to locate them and bring them in along with the verification form provided by IDOC or IDJJ to receive a permanent ID for free. Unfortunately, even with this 90-day temporary ID, many inmates will still be unable to obtain a permanent ID card because they lack access or the funds to procure the necessary identifying documents.

Recently released inmates lack access to the vital identification records they need to obtain state identification, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card either because they did not have these documents when they entered custody, or because these documents were lost or misplaced while they were in custody.  Without vital identification documents, reentrants have a weak foundation to start a new life and are more likely to recidivate. A study conducted by the H.I.R.E Network found that without state identification, a reentrant is not only unable to access critical services for reintegration, such as housing, public benefits and subsidies, and entrance into mandated treatment programs, but he or she may also experience difficulty obtaining employment and be prompted to partake in criminal activity to fulfill basic needs.

Because an ID is needed to apply for and get a job, and having a job is a key indicator of whether a person will be able to avoid criminal activity once they leave prison, an ID is a vital tool for reentry success.  Every person leaving State custody should and must have access to an ID.  In order to ensure that this happens, it is important that the Act be implemented thoughtfully, thoroughly and with fidelity to the goal of every person exiting IDOC and IDJJ having an ID card.

Recommendations for Implementing PA 99-907:

  • Rulemaking should be done with IDOC and IDJJ as well as Secretary of State’s office to ensure that people leave State custody with a temporary ID in hand.  The new law provides that this ID can be used to obtain a permanent ID by going to a Driver Services Facility with this temporary ID, and other needed identification documents.
  • Collaboration between the state agencies is essential to get IDs to every inmate at the earliest possible juncture in order to ensure that as many people as possible leave prison with a temporary ID card and are helped to get a permanent one.
  • Ideally people would leave prison with a permanent ID card in order to reduce the barriers to getting one. In other states, the agency that provides state identification cards sends mobile units to prisons in order to complete the paperwork and get photos for the ID so that a permanent ID can be produced and given out prior to an inmate leaving state custody, thus ensuring the individual has their ID in hand as they leave prison. Illinois should utilize this process.
  • Even with a birth certificate and verification form from IDOC the burden remains on released inmates to navigate the layers of state bureaucracy in order to take advantage of the newly enacted fee waiver, State agencies should do more to get permanent IDs to people leaving prison to minimize unremoved barriers to ID procurement such as transportation to a Driver Services Facility.
  • Ensure that the new amendments to the Illinois Vital records Act contained in PA 100-0042 (SB 1413) which provide for free copies of birth certificates are given to everyone leaving IDOC also apply to youth released from IDJJ.
  • Rulemaking should address how and when free copies of birth certificates will be procured, specifically determining allocation of resources and responsibility between the state agencies involved in getting the birth certificates for people before they leave prison.
  • If IDOC or IDJJ does not presently have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), enter into such an agreement so that inmates can obtain free replacement Social Security cards (given that the SSA will accept the facility’s certification as proof of identity.)  Once the MOU is in place, then apply for free replacement Social Security cards on behalf of inmates and include the replacement cards in inmate Master Files.

While more changes are needed to ensure that inmates in Illinois consistently receive treatment that is fair and humane, and that effective correctional policies and practices are in place, these proposed changes are an important step towards increasing needed and sensible support for reentering citizens. These changes lay a foundation for increased examination of outdated and counterproductive policies that impede Illinois’ ability to improve our system and outcomes for our correctional system.  If we help reentering citizens succeed when they return to our communities, the benefits are myriad and the impact resonates in many public spheres; economic, community safety, and increased social enfranchisement, to name a few. JHA supports changes that move Illinois towards a more just and effective system and will continue to push for greater improvements.

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