Massachusetts officials unveiled a new initiative Thursday to make it easier for people returning from state prisons to obtain a state-issued ID — considered a critical first step for successful reentry after incarceration.
Under the new agreement signed last fall, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Correction pledged to coordinate information on inmates coming up for release so that they can be issued a state ID by the time they leave prison. Under the agreement, the RMV will have a mobile work unit that can travel to correctional facilities to help process the IDs.
At a roundtable celebrating the agreement Thursday, Department of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici said that since the deal was reached, the two departments have been implementing changes and she has already seen an increasing number of people with IDs upon release. “Fifty percent of [eligible] people released in the last two months have received an ID,” she said, which is about 15-20% higher than the same period last year.
Jamal Gooding, a formerly incarcerated person who founded and runs an organization in Brockton called People Affecting Community Change said an ID is critical for nearly every facet of daily life — banking, job applications, medical care, even housing in a shelter.
“A guy coming home tomorrow that doesn’t have an ID is the biggest public health issue,” Gooding said. “Because if you can’t get any money … they are liable to go and rob, steal or beg.”
Gooding said he and other community groups, working with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, have been pushing for months for the Correction and Transportation departments to figure out a way to make it easier for people to obtain a state ID before they walk out of prison.
State Sen. James Eldridge told GBH News he has been lobbying the agencies to make these changes for nearly a decade.
“To guarantee that every incarcerated person upon release gets a state ID, that should not have taken nine years, but it did because of bureaucracy, because of that cultural opposition towards supporting incarcerated people,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge said he hopes more changes to the state’s corrections system move faster under the Healey administration than they did under former Gov. Charlie Baker.
Since 2018, Massachusetts has increased the requirements for a person to prove their identity in order to get a state-issued ID or driver’s license. Applicants are required to provide proof of citizenship or lawful presence, a Social Security number, and Massachusetts residency — usually with a recent utility bill or other official mail sent to their Massachusetts address.
People who have been incarcerated may not have access to any of those documents — but the Department of Correction certainly knows and has confirmed the identities of the people they are holding, Gooding points out. The agreement between the two agencies thus far only applies to people who had state-issued IDs before their incarceration, so the Registry of Motor Vehicles has their records on file.
Getting these two agencies to cooperate to provide IDs to people about to leave prison is a huge first step, Gooding said.
But he also noted the agreement “does not go far enough because it does not touch every returning citizen. It is only applicable to those who have already had a Mass. ID or a permit or a license. If you never had any one of those, then you are not already in theRegistry’s system. And so now we got to figure out how we address this?”
Andrew Peck, the state’s Undersecretary of Public Safety for Criminal Justice, said the two agencies plan to continue to expand the system with the hope of reaching some of the inmates in the categories Gooding highlighted.
“This is a public safety issue,” Peck said. “This is really about setting the foundation… We should help people and put them on that path to success.”
Roberto Rivera, who has been out of prison for four months, told state correctional officials Tuesday that starting his life again without any identification card was daunting.
“So I came home. I don’t even got an ID [like] I don’t even exist. What am I going to do? I can’t get a job, I can’t drive, I can’t do nothing,” Rivera, 43, said during a roundtable discussion about reentry at the Boston Pre-Release Center in Roslindale.
Rivera, who served time for dealing drugs, said that being without an ID made him think about returning to crime to sustain himself.
The state Department of Corrections data dashboard indicates that the state completed about 1,800 criminal releases in 2021 — although it is possible some individuals were released more than once.
The memorandum does not apply to county jails that are run by sheriffs’ but funded by state taxpayers. Those jails released nearly 4,000 men and women to communities in Massachusetts in 2022, according to the latest state data.
Makeeba McCreary, president of New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, said that several organizations her fund is working with as part of its prison reform initiative had raised IDs as a critical need.
“They all rallied around this one issue that really stops any of the audience that they’re serving from being able to access all the things that come next, which is housing, employment, health care, you know, you name it,” McCreary said. “Apparently you can’t do it if you don’t have a piece of plastic with your face and name on it.”
Source : GBHNews