The Atlantic examines a seemingly simple problem that the federal government and many states have been unable to fix: the timely issuance of an official identification card to paroled inmates. The ID can mean stable housing, a better job, access to social services, educational opportunities, and more. But the piece of plastic proves elusive for many. About 600,000 people return home from federal and state prisons each year. The federal government alone releases some 41,000 inmates annually. But the feds and many states do not provide IDs to them.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Loretta Lynch asked all state governors to provide state-issued IDs for newly released federal inmates. This is a significant but only symbolic step: The Department of Justice cannot legally compel states to act. A spokesman at the federal Bureau of Prisons said “preliminary discussions” have occurred with 17 states. Issuance of IDs could require legislative action in some states. Others are out front on the issue. Arizona, California, Illinois, Montana, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin allow released state inmates to exchange their corrections-department documentation for a state-issued ID. Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, and Wyoming already have systems for providing a valid state-issued ID upon release.