New York pol wants to give ex-cons state-issued IDs when they get out of jail


January 12, 2020

Originally published in New York Daily News on January 12, 2020.


ALBANY — A New York lawmaker wants to make it easier for ex-cons to get a state-issued ID when they get out of jail.

State Sen. Brian Benjamin (D-Harlem) is proposing a bill that would partner the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision with the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue non-driving IDs to inmates as they prepare for post-prison life.

Currently, those being released are issued a temporary ID by DOCCS that Benjamin says carries a stigma and can make it difficult for someone looking for a job, trying to get an apartment or even just a gym membership.

“It’s a hurdle for someone trying to reintegrate into society and do the right thing,” Benjamin told the Daily News.

The temporary card is good for 120 days.

Parolees or released inmates must then make sure they have their prison papers, a birth certificate and Social Security card to get a non-driving ID from the DMV.

But keeping track of such documents while incarcerated can pose a problem and getting new copies post-release can be nearly impossible without other forms of ID, Benjamin pointed out.

Jason Gordon, 37, who spent more than a decade behind bars for robbery, knows the shame associated with a Corrections-issued ID.

“I got out and was literally trying to get a gym membership and the woman looked at me with, I don’t know, just fear, and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t accept that,’” he said. “The picture is like a mugshot and then it has the expiration date and the word ‘released’ on it."

Gordon, a former Bloods gang member who grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, has since turned his experiences with the system into action by speaking to inmates across the state about reentry, and is working on a master’s degree in social work at Columbia University.

He said a state-issued ID could be the difference for someone struggling to readjust to life on the outside.

“It’s such a small thing, but it’s something that can make a huge difference for someone coming out and trying to get a job or who is trying to get reestablished in society," he said.

While a spokesman for DOCCS said the department cannot comment on proposed legislation, there’s precedent that proves such a program could work.

In the city, the department has already established a partnership with the Department of Motor Vehicles that assists parolees in obtaining a non-driver ID.

Benjamin said his legislation would help cut through the bureaucracy and simplify the process.

“There’s no public safety reason that anyone can articulate as to why we need to have a two-step process here when what we really need is people focused on is reintegration back into society, finding a job, spending time with loved ones, getting reasserted,” he said.