Without a valid picture ID, released inmates struggle to access county services
REGION — Accessing social services quickly after being released from county jail or state prison can make the difference between an offender successfully reentering the community or going back into custody, according to many local reentry experts.
For this reason, a wealth of San Diego County agencies and nonprofits are geared towards connecting released offenders to a variety of social services, employment opportunities, and benefits.
But service providers, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other local reentry stakeholders have realized that many individuals released from incarceration are unable to access these services for lack of one simple thing: a valid, government-issued picture ID.
“Without an ID as you come out, you are not going to be able to access any type of service from Medi-Cal to CalFresh to employment to social security,” said Charlene Autolino, chair of the San Diego Reentry Roundtable.
“It’s a Catch-22 for those who are coming out into the community.”
The San Diego Reentry Roundtable is a countywide forum that promotes the successful and safe return of offenders to the community. The group is made up of representatives from the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, former inmates, and social service providers.
The Roundtable started to address the issue of picture IDs when its service provider members began to report that this was becoming a significant barrier for the reentry population.
“When (inmates) get out, there’s no way we can link them with anything if they don’t have an ID,” explained Dr. Mona Minton, the program director of Project In-Reach, and a Reentry Roundtable member. “ID is the first step to any transition.”
Project In-Reach helps jail inmates prepare for reentering the community by addressing substance abuse and mental health issues and connecting them with community resources.
Minton said that almost 80 percent of Project In-Reach clients lack adequate ID when they are released.
Inmates are lacking official IDs for a variety of reasons, according to a report by the Reentry Roundtable. Some individuals are arrested without an ID in their possession, while others release their ID to a family member or friend who then misplaces it.
For many inmates, their IDs expire while they serve their sentences.
The sheriff’s department doesn’t provide any mechanisms for San Diego County jail inmates to obtain picture IDs before release.
Those who are released from prison often lack IDs as well.
In numerous cases, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will destroy an offender’s ID when the person enters prison.
The problem with offenders lacking government IDs is not new to the county.
“It’s been an issue forever. As far back as you can think, people have used IDs for everything,” said Kellen Russoniello, the health policy fellow for the ACLU in San Diego.
Yet the issue has become more prevalent in San Diego now because of the state’s prison realignment. More offenders are serving their time in county jails instead of state prison and inmates from state prisons are being released to county supervision.
As a result, there are more offenders relying on county services.
And unless an offender has family or friends lending a hand, it’s practically impossible for a person to obtain a valid ID upon release on their own, Minton said.
Without money, an individual cannot utilize public transportation to get to a DMV to obtain a new ID, she explained. Reduced-fare transit passes are available, but they too require an ID.
While some organizations, including Project In-Reach will help offenders obtain IDs from the DMV upon release, not all agencies have the time or funds to so do.
The Reentry Roundtable brought the problem before San Diego’s Community Corrections Partnership on April 21. The CCP is charged with addressing the needs of realigned offenders and reducing recidivism.
Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins leads the committee, which also includes the Sheriff, the head of the Health and Human Services Agency, and other officials involved in adult criminal justice.
“This is a serious problem,” said Judge David Danielson, the presiding judge of San Diego Superior Courts, at the meeting. “I don’t think anyone disputes the need for access to a valid picture ID at the earliest opportunity.”
Jenkins directed the matter to the CCP’s steering committee for analysis on how the county could provide picture IDs to inmates who are soon to be released or those who are released from state prison to county supervision.
“It’s really a systemic issue,” said Jenkins. But he expressed optimism that the CCP will be able to address the problem.
“I do believe it’s solvable,” he said.
An update from the steering committee is expected at the next CCP meeting in July.