Regaining Identity a Nightmare for Recent Inmates

Obtaining an identification card is, seemingly, a normal passage through life. But for those who recently have been released from prison, a valid ID can be a nearly impossible luxury.

prison inmate

Case Western Reserve University social-work researcher Amy Blank Wilson, PhD, says obtaining identification is an uphill battle for inmates reentering society. Lacking it can bar ex-offenders from public assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid, which require clients to show ID.

"Released prisoners are being systematically excluded because of ID requirements," she says.

The problem starts early in the criminal justice system: Suspects routinely have their identification confiscated when they are arrested. Those who don't have it with them as they are apprehended are never given an opportunity to grab it. And the homeless are often forced to abandon all belongings on the street.

Wilson says that for those who are lucky enough to have some form of ID when they're released, often what they have isn't enough. Obtaining major forms of government-issued identification-such as a Social Security card—can require two different forms of IDs, such as a driver's license and birth certificate, neither of which can be granted without at least one other major form of ID.

"When they're released, former inmates face the Catch-22 that 'it takes ID to get ID,'" Wilson says. "This is keeping people from receiving life-sustaining resources. They're missing out on the services they need."