People leaving the prison system often have to jump through hoops to get a state-issued identification card. For them, it’s just another obstacle in the way of securing a new job, finding housing or reuniting with family members.
An agreement between Colorado agencies already removes that obstacle for many people. It’s aimed at reducing their chances of ending up in prison again.
Senate Bill 21-153 would require the state’s Department of Corrections to maintain a program to help people acquire state-issued ID cards, such as driver’s licenses, as well as the other identification documents necessary for obtaining state-issued ID cards, such as Social Security cards or birth certificates. Though the program already exists within the department, the bill would formally establish it under state law and set requirements aimed at improving access to ID cards for people in prisons across the state.
The bill’s sponsors include Sens. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat, and John Cooke, a Greeley Republican; along with Reps. David Ortiz, a Littleton Democrat, and Kerry Tipper, a Democrat from Lakewood.
“The bottom line,” Ortiz said on the House floor April 20, “is that it’s codifying and expanding a program that already exists, without additional resources.”
SB-153 passed the House on April 21 by a vote of 50-13, with one lawmaker excused, and awaits Gov. Jared Polis’s signature.
Under the bill, people in the prison system who are eligible for a state-issued ID card — and want one — would receive it upon their release from prison, starting Jan. 1, 2022. The Colorado Department of Corrections would collaborate with the state’s Department of Revenue and the federal Social Security Administration on the identification program, as needed.
The bill would require DOC to start posting yearly statistics online about how many people are eligible to receive ID cards and how many received them.
Organizations supporting SB-153 represent diverse perspectives on advocacy, law enforcement and criminal justice reform. They include the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, to name a few.
“We can’t expect recently incarcerated people to seamlessly reintegrate into their communities if we don’t provide them with basic, necessary support,” Tipper said in a statement following the bill’s House passage. “In this day and age, an ID is an absolute necessity for accessing education, employment, housing and much more. Simply by helping people leaving prisons obtain identification documents, we’re taking an important step toward lowering recidivism and building stronger communities.”