Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
FOR NEW PAROLEES hoping to stay out of prison for good, scoring public assistance is crucial. But few consider this obstacle: "You can't get ID in this society anymore if you don't have ID," says Amy Blank, a researcher at Rutgers University. "If you want a birth certificate, you need a driver's license. If you want a driver's license, you have to have a birth certificate and a Social Security card. And to get a Social Security card, you have to have a driver's license. It's this crazy cycle."
While studying a Philadelphia program that helped mentally ill ex-inmates transition back into the community, Blank found that virtually none of the 60 ex-cons she followed had IDs—the cards were either ditched during arrest or simply lost in the system. As a result, they had to wait weeks, sometimes months, for welfare checks, food stamps, and Medicaid benefits as they were bounced between government offices—a "brutalizing process" mentally ill parolees would be hard-pressed to negotiate alone, Blank says.
It's not getting easier: In May, provisions of the Real ID Act set stricter documentation requirements for state-issued IDs, and Medicaid enrollees must now prove identity and citizenship. Prison authorities could create IDs for ex-offenders, Blank says, but some are wary since inmates can be booked under false identities. As a result, "these people are going back to using drugs, living on the street, engaging in prostitution—crimes that are about their survival—because it just took too long."