NORTH LAWNDALE — When 25-year-old West Side resident Arias was released from prison recently, he had nowhere to turn and no state identification card.
"I had no place to go, no support system at all," Arias said. "I wanted a job so bad, I wanted to turn my life around, and without an ID, I couldn't make it happen."
A bill signed into law Thursday intends to help people like Arias and other recently-released inmates struggling to get back on their feet. With the law, nearly all to-be-released state inmates will be discharged with an ID card, helping them establish a life outside of prison and hopefully reduce recidivism, state officials said.
"We believe in redemption, in second chances," said Gov. Bruce Rauner, who signed the bill into law Thursday at A Safe Haven, 2750 W. Roosevelt Rd. "This bill helps those who made a mistake re-establish their lives."
Under the bill, the Department of Corrections will work with the Secretary of State's office to equip inmates with IDs as they leave state custody. If an inmate has a birth certificate, a social security card or other Secretary of State-authorized documents, and two proofs of address, they will automatically receive an ID upon release, according to a press release.
Those without such documentation can still get a 90-day ID with official Department of Corrections papers. They can then go to a Secretary of State's office with the temporary ID and apply to get a standard state ID, officials said.
"We're helping these individuals become a part of society," again, Secretary of State Jesse White said.
Secretary of State Jesse White speaks about the importance of state identification cards for ex-inmates at a bill signing in North Lawndale Thursday. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
Having a state ID will help former inmates get housing, apply for jobs and receive public assistance. Helping people find jobs and housing is key to reducing prison recidivism, and ultimately reducing crime in Chicago and elsewhere, officials said.
"If you don't have a state ID, you're a vagrant," said Benita Riley, a former inmate and client of A Safe Haven, which helps the homeless and other populations re-establish their lives. "You can't even go to a food pantry without a state ID."
Without access to work and food, people can turn to crime to survive. Riley said she's been there, as she said she served four sentences in state prison before counseling and job training at A Safe Haven helped her turn her life around.
The bill was a product of Rauner's criminal justice and sentencing reform committee, a bi-partisan group Rauner tasked with finding ways to reform the state's criminal justice system.
Many of the elected officials present at the bill signing said the common-sense legislation was long overdue, but championed its passage as a bipartisan way forward for a politically gridlocked Springfield.
"It seems so fundamental that every citizen ... should have easy access to an ID," said Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago). "It's a wonder that we struggled to get to this point."
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