SALT LAKE CITY — Ask any nonprofit agency that serves those newly released from jail or prison, a former inmate's lack of identification — state ID, driver's license, birth certificate or Social Security card — can hobble their re-entry to society.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Senate committee gave a favorable recommendation to a bill that would enable newly released prison or jail inmates to obtain temporary state IDs.
Obtaining that form of identification, which would be valid for six months, would help people apply for jobs, obtain housing and apply for government programs to help them make a positive start outside of jail or prison.
HB320 would help address an ongoing problem, said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, which houses and provides supportive services to homeless individuals and families.
"We know that identification is essential to obtaining employment. We continue to have individuals coming to us from incarceration requesting assistance in obtaining identification. We are limited in our ability to help address this need, and it is not uncommon for people to go without assistance," Minkevitch said in an interview prior to the committee meeting.
"Temporary identification for people coming out of incarceration would eliminate a barrier to employment and expedite people's reintegration back into the community," he said.
The Senate Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the Senate for further consideration.
Rep. Eric Hutching, R-Kearns, sponsor of HB320, said one of the unintended consequences of the federal REAL ID Act, which requires all applicants for driver's licenses and state identification cards to present specific identifying documents, is that newly released inmates cannot immediately access birth certificates or Social Security cards.
Hutchings said he was approached by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteers who work with inmates who have difficulty obtaining housing, jobs and applying for government programs without proper identification.
"This is a crazy hurdle I wasn't even aware of," he said.
Absent passage of the bill, Hutchings said he was aware of just one bank that assists people newly released from prison or jail — Zions Bank.
Zions Bank spokeswoman Heidi Prokop said there is no company policy on the issue, but some bank branches located near correctional facilities accept letters from correctional facilities as a form of identification to allow newly released inmates to cash checks.
"The letters kind of help to serve as form of ID. Typically, the checks they present are drawn on Zions Bank, so that makes it a little easier for us to cash them," she said, noting the checks are usually in small amounts, typically under $500.
If people were able to obtain needed identification, it "would enable these individuals to open up bank accounts sooner. We require two forms of ID to do that," Prokop said.
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, said a lack of ID is also a problem for inmates leaving county jails.
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