When you leave prison, you can face a number of obstacles. You might have a hard time finding a place to live. You might have a hard time getting a job. Or you might have a hard time applying for certain state benefits.
These are some of the more complicated problems you could have. But there are simple problems you could have, too. In fact, some of those simple problems make the complicated problems even worse.
An example of one of those simple problems is getting an ID after leaving prison.
“A flat piece of plastic can mean so much to a former inmate,” an article from The Atlantic explains. “It can mean stable housing, a better job, access to social services, educational opportunities, and more.”
That article is absolutely right.
Why is it so hard to get an ID after leaving prison?
These problems are as obvious here in North Carolina as they are anywhere. As Isabel Shapiro did a good job of explaining in her article for NC Policy Watch, so many of us take having an ID for granted.
“I barely thought twice about it when I was asked for a copy of my ID to rent my apartment, apply for my last job, or enroll in school,” she wrote.
What steps do you have to go through to get an ID after leaving prison?
Shapiro then goes on to outline all of the steps the thousands — more than 22,000 to be exact — of North Carolinians face every when they are released.
First, you need a birth certificate. To get a birth certificate, you need another form of ID. Assuming you have (and authorities accept) a prison-issued ID card, the birth certificate still costs you $24 and can take around five weeks to get.
If you get a birth certificate, you can then use that to get a Social Security card. But you can’t get a Social Security card without a state-issued ID or another form of identification. Other examples include an employee ID, a school ID, a health insurance card with a picture or a military ID.
Even if you have one of these other forms of ID, you still have to wait another two to four weeks for your Social Security card. And then you have to apply for a state ID, which takes a few more weeks and costs another $14.
Now you’ve went months without a job or housing. And it cost you a significant amount of money — maybe more money than you had to begin with. This makes the transition from prison even harder.
Are states doing anything to make it easier?
While it is difficult to get an ID after leaving prison in many states, some are taking steps to make the process easier. Illinois, for example, just launched a program that aims to provide a new state ID card to everyone released from its state prisons.
To get a state ID card, an incarcerated individual needs certain paperwork and a photograph that prison staff send to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. When you’re leaving prison, the staff give you the ID card at no charge to you.
Make no mistake about it: Leaving prison can be a challenge. But if you’re leaving prison with an ID, it can make the other challenges a little bit easier. States like Illinois have programs that help with just that.